The Washerwoman’s Genes

October 20, 2006

Less Than I Knew

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:29 am

Yesterday I received quite the anticlimax: the death certificate of Jeannette. All along, it was exactly where it should have been, in the archives of the City of Brooklyn, now within the NYC archives on Chambers Street. It’s just that I didn’t know where that “should be” place was.

The anticlimax: how minimally informative a death certificate from 1884 can be:

Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn
[Brooklyn was a separate city until 1898]

1. Full name, Jeannette Burger
2. Age, 68 years, –– months, –– days.
3. Sex, Female 4. White
5. Widow
6. Birthplace, New York State 7. Occupation, ______________
8. If of foreign birth, how long in the U.S. —————-
9. How long resident in City, One years. [sic]
10. Father’s birthplace, NY 11. Mother’s birthplace, NY
12. Place of Death, 451 Sackett Street Brooklyn Ward, 10th
13. Number of Families in House, two 14. On what floor, 2nd
14. I HEREBY CERTIFY that I attended the deceased from Nov. 5, 1884,
that I last saw her alive on the 15 day of Nov. 1884; that she died on the
15th day of November 1884 about 3:45 o’clock P.M., and that the following
was the
16. Cause of Death I. Hemiplegia II. Asthema
Time from attack till death About 10 days
Signed by C. Eugene Gunther, M.D. No. 157 Clinton Street
17. Place of Burial, Kingston N.Y. State Cemetery
18. Date of Burial Nov. 17
19. Undertaker A. Lennart Place of Business 277 Columbia

The one detail I care most about––the names of her parents––is absent.

There’s also no indication of who the informant was for this document.

It seems filled with generalizations: her age is rounded off to 68. There is no option to indicate Divorced, so she is listed incorrectly as a Widow. (Sex, race, and marital status are indicated by crossing off what does not apply,i.e., Single, Married, Widower, not by filling in a blank.) The place of birth for everyone is just the state. The place of burial is a city, rather than the name of a cemetery. I already know more than this document tells!

So I can’t really trust that she has been in the city for a year. Obviously, it’s rounded off, or even just a place-filler. She might have been there for a year and a half, or perhaps just a few weeks.

The address is something to check on: 297 Sackett Street was the 1897 residence of Alva, Jeannette’s grandson by James, according to the Lain Directory. And, in 1876, Walter Davis gives 460 Sackett as his address on his marriage license. So, some family members were living at 451 (or 7) in 1884, but who? I’ll make this certificate yield some new information yet!

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