Finding Balance

The Orphan in My Family Tree, Part 5

This is Part 5 of The Orphan in My Family Tree. It is the true tale of my ongoing search for the parents of my great great grandpa Fritz, who was orphaned in New York City in the late 1870s and sent, at the age of seven, to live with a foster family in Bow Valley, Nebraska.

Two young ladies and two young men in funeral attire.

Sue, Hilaria, Ray and Lawrence in 1926 at their father’s funeral.

Pictured above: Sue, Hilaria, Ray and Lawrence Brandt in 1926 at their father Fritz’s funeral.

1880s New York: City of Orphans

In the last post about Fritz’s Adult Life in Nebraska, I relied on records to confirm some of the basic details of Fritz’s life. I still face challenges with some important details to finding records for him as a child. The biggest challenge to finding these early records is not knowing his parents names or his birthdate. Fritz’s date of birth is recorded on official records (filled out later in his life) as being anywhere from October 1872 to May 1874, and sometimes it is even estimated to be outside of that range when the document relies on a secondary source as a reporter. In a situation like this, it is best to rely on documents that contain information directly from Fritz, or from his foster family in the years closely following his arrival to Nebraska. It is also important to remember that even though a person is most often thought the most reliable source of information for their own birth date, Fritz was a child at the time he was orphaned, and the information he passed along was only as good as the information given to him when he was old enough to remember it. For some purposes, such as reaching out to orphanages who may have a record of Fritz, this is not especially problematic, as they often are willing to search a range of dates for a child who may have been a resident. When reaching out to municipal archives and records departments, the uncertainty surrounding Fritz’s birthdate, especially in the absence of the names of his parents, becomes more problematic.

I have a binder containing leads and records requests that turned out not to be “our Fritz” that is at least twice as thick as the binder containing information I am relatively certain is about him or that even looks promising. The mystery of Fritz’s origins has at least given me plenty of opportunity to flex my research muscles and to learn about New York in the late 1800s. The New York City Municipal Archives have been a wonderful resource for birth and marriage records, but so far each of those records have led me to a dead end. And all attempts thus far to find a birth record for Fritz in those archives, without a more specific birthdate, have failed. Municipal Archives records have helped me eliminate a number of young “Fred Brand” candidates found in early New York City census records from my list of prospects, but they have yet to reveal information about our Fritz.

My research focusing on Fritz’s time in New York, as I mentioned in my second post, has by necessity started “backwards” from the time Fritz came to Nebraska. Which simply means that when I struck out finding a birth certificate for Fritz with the scant information I had, I started in the 1880 Federal Census for the greater New York City area. I hoped that since Fritz didn’t appear to have been in Nebraska at the time of the census, he could be located somewhere in New York City. I went about my research by looking at census records across New York State, and especially New York City, and recording every Fritz, Fred, Frederick, and even Ferdinand that I found with a last name that looked or sounded anything like Brand or Brandt. There were a lot of them. I crossed them off my list, one by one, by searching previous and future New York Census records for clues that showed each Fritz or Fred was not the one I was looking for.

Over the course of a few years of investigating, sending for records, combing new records as they became available, getting distracted from my research often by the wonder of life in the here and now, then investigating again, I ended up with one little boy left on my list. In June of 1880, recorded in both the United States Federal Census and the Supplement Schedule 6 to that census (which separately recorded Homeless Children) a six year old boy named Frederick Brandt was recorded as a resident in the Five Points House of Industry in New York City. Both the census and the supplemental schedule have matching lists of names for the residents of the Five Points House of Industry, but the two documents contain slightly different information. The following is true for the young Fred who was at the Five Points House of Industry at the time of his admission sometime in the first half of 1880: his mother was deceased; his father was still living; and he was not born illegitimate.

It seems like so much to work with. And it seems like nothing to work with. Could this be him? Will this discovery end up in the binder of verified information about our Fritz, or in my ever-growing binder of interesting history about a variety of other young Freds and Fredericks?

I find myself alternating between hope that this information is and isn’t specifically about our Fritz.

On one hand, I would love to have another solid clue to work with. This could be it. On the other hand, the Five Points neighborhood is infamous for poverty and violence — true Gangs of New York stuff. This is history I’ve been familiar with in the abstract, and what was heartbreaking in the abstract now seems heartbreakingly personal.

There were two other “Brandt” children listed in the Five Points House of Industry in June 1880, which made me think it was possible that if this was Fritz, he may have a sibling or two, even though no stories of siblings survive in our few family stories about Fritz. I was undaunted by the lack of family stories about brothers or sisters. If I couldn’t find Fritz a mother, maybe I could at least find him a sister or brother. On further investigation of each of the Brandt children listed at Five Points House of Industry, though, I realized I had wandered down interesting but unproductive research rabbit holes. I was able to locate the other Brandt children listed with Fritz in others census or municipal records that disproved any relationship with Fritz. In one case, I was even able to locate the birth and residency records for the child’s parents — if only I could do the same for Fritz.

The links below will take you to more information about the part of New York City Fritz was probably from, and the conditions of those areas at the time. 

Kleindeutschland & The Five Points

6SQFT, Kleindeutschland: The History of the East Village’s Little Germany

L.E.S.P.I., Kleindeutschland: Little Germany in the Lower East Side

HathiTrust Digital Library, The Five Points Monthly (1856)

Jacob August Riis

Library of Congress, Jacob Riis How the Other Half Lives

MoMA, Jacob August Riis Exhibitions & Online Works

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