This is Part 6 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.
Finding Fritz a Mom
Frustrated at not finding proof linking Fritz further to the Five Points House of Industry, but even more determined than ever, I started to look at other records from New York around 1880. I searched for Fritz and his possible parents in any and every index and directory I could find for New York City in the 1870s, and then browsed the 1880 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules.
I found a few Brands and Brandts in the Mortality Schedule. Some were babies or children, and far too young in 1880 to consider as Fritz’s parents. Others could be easily located in earlier or later census records as members of identifiable families. I found two people in the Mortality Schedules for New York City who piqued my interest — one named Elizabeth Brandt and one named Frederick Brand — I hoped one of them might provide a lead, or at least help me cross another lead off my list. While neither person had an explicit link to Fritz, they had each died in the right place, at about the right time for my purposes. I flipped a coin and picked one of the names, deciding since their last names were recorded differently, it made more sense to just pay for one record first and then, if that didn’t lead anywhere, I could order the other.
Elizabeth, who died of Uterine Cancer in January 1880, according to the Mortality Schedule, won the coin toss so I sent away for her record first. I received her death certificate from the NYC Archives a few weeks later, and found that she’d died at the age of 35, having lived in the United States for thirty years and having originally come from Germany. Her record told me that she was treated in the Charity Hospital on Blackwell Island for about a month before her death in January 1880. Elizabeth’s death certificate does not reveal where she was buried. She was married at the time of her death, and had been employed as a “domestic” before her illness. Her home address showed that she lived in Kleindeutschland in New York City — a good sign for me, but certainly not a definitive one considering that New York boasted a larger population of German residents at the time than any other city except Vienna and Berlin.
Elizabeth’s information seemed promising, but with nothing definite linking her to “our Fritz” I was curious to find whether Frederick Brand’s death certificate would yield some better clues. I sent away for his certificate, expecting to find yet another story to pursue.
When Frederick Brand’s certificate of death arrived, I opened it and immediately noticed that his address was the same as the address on Elizabeth Brandt’s certificate. Frederick died in April of 1880 and is listed as a thirty-eight year old widower, who was originally from Germany and who had lived in the United States for 14 years. Frederick was a laborer, and died of Pneumonia at the German Hospital in the neighborhood near his residence. He was buried in a nearby potter’s field in late April of 1880.
With this common address in hand, and some additional details from their death certificates to research, I looked for Frederick and Elizabeth in census records, marriage indexes, and city directories. I have yet to find them in any census record or marriage index, but they show up in the New York, New York City directory living at 1120 First Avenue, which matches the information on both Elizabeth and Frederick’s certificates of death. I can link them to each other, but the question remains whether will I be able to find a link between them and our Fritz.
Could this be a clue to Fritz’s origins? Could these be his parents?
Picturing the Past
The Smithsonian Magazine website contains interesting resources about U.S. and world history, cartography, art, and culture. One fun and interesting item about Manhattan on the Smithsonian site is an interactive map comparing 1836 New York City to today. You can see an example in the screenshot below. When you visit the map on Smithsonian.com, you can move around the “magnifying glass” that overlays the modern map of New York City to reveal the map of the same spot in 1836.
The Harvard Art Museums’ website is a wonderful resource for historical photos, like the one below, that can help add context to your family history. Local universities, libraries, and historical societies are also a great resource for historical photographs, maps, and directories that will help you picture where your ancestors may have been.