Showing posts with label Henrietta Mahler Burk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henrietta Mahler Burk. Show all posts

Saturday, January 6, 2018

52 Ancestors #1: Grandpa Got Me Started in Genealogy

I never knew my father's father, Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943). I didn't know what he looked like, didn't know when or where he was born, didn't know when or where he died. But it was Grandpa who got me started on my genealogy journey 20 years ago.

In 1998, the genealogist of my mother's Farkas family wanted to add my father and his parents to her comprehensive family tree. There was little I could tell her other than Grandpa's name. There was no one left to ask. Of course, I couldn't resist trying to find out more. Little did I know how elusive Grandpa's trail was going to be!

As a complete novice, my first stop was the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library. In those days of microfilm research, I figured this was one-stop shopping for info and advice about finding Grandpa Isaac's records. I was sure he lived in New York City after arriving from somewhere in Eastern Europe.

With the help of librarians, I checked NYC directories and newspaper records. Yup, Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk did live in NYC. I cranked that microfilm reader until I found a terse obit in the New York Times for October 10, 1943. No mention of burial place. Nothing in death record indexes. Next, I mailed a check to New York City with a search request for Grandpa's death cert. I was hooked and had to know more.

Uh-oh. No NYC death cert was on record. Nor was there a death cert in New York State. And no hint of which cemetery Grandpa might be buried in. Remember, Find a Grave was in its infancy, so I couldn't just click to search for him. The funeral folks couldn't help, either.

I continued my quest for Grandpa Isaac little by little over the next few years, locating his marriage record from 1906 and all the US and NY State Census records available at the time. But--no death cert, even though every document showed him living in NYC. Still, I was determined to solve this seemingly basic family mystery.

In desperation, I actually called New York City's vital records department and threw myself on their mercy, asking for help. A very kind gentleman lowered his voice and told me I should try searching further afield. He offered the unofficial hint that Grandpa Isaac might have died in someplace like, say, Washington, D.C.

Huh? Who would Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta know in Washington, D.C.? And why would Grandpa have died there?

I immediately wrote to the vital records department in D.C., including a check, and waited.

Two weeks later, I had Grandpa Isaac's death cert in my hand. The details fit, this was definitely him. Later, I found Isaac's naturalization record and saw his face and signature for the very first time.

Why were Isaac and Henrietta in D.C. for four days before he had a heart attack and died--in the home of Louis Volk?

The quest for a connection with Louis Volk eventually brought me into contact with some wonderful 2d cousins! But that's another story for another week in the challenge. 

I only wish Grandpa Isaac could know how he got me started in #genealogy--and that I'm making sure the family knows as much about him and his life story as I can discover.

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday's Faces from the Past: Isaac, Henrietta, Ida, and Hilda, Arm-in-Arm on October 7, 1943

Handwritten on the back of this photo are the words: "Taken on October 7, 1943." It shows (from left) my Grandpa Isaac Burk and his wife, Henrietta Mahler Burk, strolling along the street in Washington, D.C., with Henrietta's favorite sister (Ida Mahler Volk), arm-in-arm with the sisters' first cousin (Hilda Jacobs Wilner).

Isaac and Henrietta had come from New York City for a brief stay with the Volks. Both of the Burk daughters (Mildred and Miriam) were married, and both of the Burk sons were in the Army but not in combat units (Harold--my Dad--was in Europe, and his brother Sidney was in Hawaii). Just 10 months earlier, Isaac's US naturalization had been finalized and he had taken the oath of citizenship. Now, because Hilda lived in Washington, she joined her first cousins for a day out (thanks to Cuz Lois for identifying Hilda!).

Sadly, tragedy struck the very next day. On October 8, 1943, Grandpa Isaac suffered a heart attack and died in the Rodman Street home of the Volks. This must have been a terrible time for the family, compounded by the fact that neither of Isaac's sons could return from their wartime duties to attend the funeral.

Tracing Isaac's place and date of death was the first genealogical research I undertook in the 1990s. It took years to find out what happened--and once I learned about the close relationship between the Burks and the Volks, I gained a wonderful new constellation of cousins and valuable new insight into my family's background.

The photo at top and the memorial book shown here were both lent by Cousin E, a Burk cousin I saw again this week for the first time in many years. Knowing my interest in family history, he kindly let me scan dozens of photos and documents that had been passed down from Henrietta and Isaac. It was quite a surprise to flip through the photos and suddenly come upon these faces from the past on Isaac's last good day, arm-in-arm with wife Henrietta and her sister and cousin. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Harold the Travel Agent

Dad (Harold Burk) was a travel agent who did the most traveling of his life during WWII.

Here you can see brochures and timetables for trains and other transportation methods, next to his desk at the luxe Savoy Plaza Hotel, located at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, a ritzy address just across from the Plaza Hotel.

Dad started his WWII travels at Camp Upton on Long Island, where he was inducted in 1942 for what became 3 1/2 years in the US Army. He served from late 1944 to mid-1945 in "Central Europe" and in "Rhineland," according to his honorable discharge documents. His younger brother Sidney also served in Europe then.

We know Dad was stationed outside Paris for a time because he sent photos home to his mom, Henrietta Mahler Burk. For instance, the photo at left below shows him in uniform at a cafe outside Paris (and below right, Dad in Paris itself).

Harold Burk (right) and friend

After WWII ended, Dad came home, met Mom (possibly through a date arranged by two aunts, one on each side) and were married, followed by a Bermuda honeymoon.
Once Dad became a father, his travels usually consisted of getting onto the IRT subway to ride from the Bronx into Manhattan every day for work. His biggest post-war trip was in 1959, when he went to Hawaii for what turned out to be a very short stay, as I wrote last year here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1906, When Isaac and Henrietta Wed

In my continuing series of time-travel posts, today I'm looking at the year in which my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk, married my maternal grandma, Henrietta Mahler. Their wedding date was June 10, 1906, so their anniversary is just a few days from now.

These photos show them in the mid-1930s, when their four children were grown and gone.

What was life like for them in 1906, when they were married in Henrietta's apartment in New York City? Despite their hopes and dreams, all around them were larger forces causing major challenges for immigrants from Eastern Europe:
  • War and peace and pogroms. Teddy Roosevelt was President, and this was the year he won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese war. But pogroms continued in parts of Eastern Europe controlled by Russia. Isaac and Henrietta's friends and family there would have been affected by these terrible events (which would also have reinforced their decision to make a life in North America).
  • Money troubles. New York was a city of super-rich socialites and struggling immigrants like my grandparents. The financial panic of 1907 was just around the corner, which may have been one reason why Isaac was "commuting" back and forth between Montreal and New York in search of work. One of Isaac and Henrietta's four children was born in Montreal (my uncle Sidney Burk). Cousin Lois told me that her grandma Ida and my grandma Henrietta would help each other out with money during the Depression years in New York, which suggests money was an ongoing problem for my grandparents.
  • Fear of immigrant labor. Waves of immigration swept over the city and country, and with it, increasing fear that immigrants were stealing jobs from Americans (sound familiar?). Perhaps Isaac felt the effects of this fear when he tried to find work in NYC. Immigration laws were changing . . . and the naturalization rules were tightened in 1906 to require English language knowledge. What was it like to arrive in New York after a week or more at sea? Two years ago, Dick Eastman posted a link to footage of Ellis Island immigrants in 1906, and the three-minute snippet is quite poignant.
  • Earthquakes and exposes. San Francisco was devastated by the huge earthquake and fire in April, 1906, news that would have made it to New York before the wedding. Later that same summer, Chile suffered a massive earthquake and fire that killed 20,000. Other news headlines related to exposes such as The Jungle, which prompted new federal regulations that made my grandparents' daily lives safer, such as the Pure Food and Drug Act. When they could afford to buy a newspaper, most likely Isaac and Henrietta read the Jewish Daily Forward published in Yiddish.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Matrilineal Monday - Henrietta Mahler Burk, Mogul?

Today is International Women's Day and I'm thinking about the women in my family tree. Henrietta Mahler Burk, my pat gmother, was quite a determined woman. Here she is with three of her four children: Mildred (left), my Aunt Millie; Miriam (in Henrietta's arms), my aunt; and Harold, at right, my father. At this time, boys might wear dresses such as this and have their hair long until their first haircut. The date of this photo must be after 1911 because that's when Miriam was born.

Henrietta crossed from US to Canada and back several times after she married Isaac in 1906 because he had found work in Montreal, Canada. In fact, my Uncle Sidney, the youngest of their children, was born in Montreal. Henrietta accomplished this long-distance travel by herself until 1915, with her young children by her side. That's determination.

Now here's why I'm focusing on Henrietta Mahler Burk for Matrilineal Monday: In 1931, my father Harold applied for a "fidelity bond" so he could be a transportation clerk at the Park Central Hotel in New York City. This was his first step toward becoming an independent travel agent. But because travel agents were responsible for blank airline tickets--which could be stolen or forged--they and their employees were required to be bonded.

My father applied to the Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Co for his bond. I have the application! He lists his address as 1580 Crotona Park East in the Bronx, and lists all his employers from Jan. 1926 to Oct. 1931. He'd worked for a summer at the Larchmont Yacht Club, been a runner for a Wall Street firm, and somehow was now seeking a job at the Park Central Hotel's travel agent concession.

Asked about his relatives, he lists "Isaac Burk" (his father) and shows Isaac's financial worth as $250. His mother, "Henrietta Burk," has (according to Dad) a net worth of $350. So if Dad is correct, Henrietta was wealthier than her husband. And this, during the Depression! Wealthiest of all, however, is Dad, if his application is to be believed. He lists $100 in cash and $400 in "building & loan association." Sorry, I simply don't believe any of his figures. My guess is that the entire family, combined, might have had that amount in savings.

And by the way, the references Dad lists on this application include:
  • Louis Volk, businessman, 3150 Rochambeau Ave., Bronx, NY (in reality, Louis is Harold's uncle)
  • Joseph Markel, salesman, 3235 Rochambeau Ave., Bronx, NY (in reality, Joseph is Harold's uncle)
  • Jack Mendelowitz, school teacher, 1580 Crotona Park E., Bronx, NY (a neighbor)