Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back to Square One

On Monday Mystery Post, I presented a death certificate I received for a Max H Crane. The post was a call for help from my knowledgable readers. I was hoping to establish whether the certificate belonged to my great-great-uncle Max Hyman Crane. Immediately, I received several helpful replies, and would like to share two of them with you today.

One of two remaining photos of Max seated with his wife Frieda
to his right and baby Milton on his lap. In this photo, celebrating the return
of William Crane from WWI, the Max is the proud head of the family.
(My great-grandmother, his sister Minnie, is standing above Max and Frieda). 

The first reply arrived via e-mail from my cousin Martha who is, herself, an amateur genealogist and a wonderful collaborator. Martha writes:
"Dear Smadar,
 I just read today's installment of the Max Crane Mystery.  The reference to carbon monoxide poisoning which is mentioned might also have come about from an old-fashioned lighting fixture in the tenement.  Could that have been a source for the cause of escaping gas. Illuminating gas, instead of from a kitchen stove or room-type gas heater?
 This is such a dramatic story, and so sad.  If his end was really a suicide, there might be some question of where to bury him, if the family accepted the suicide theory. Without some kind of note or direct declaration to his wife or to others in the family, that might  have permitted him to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.  Usually suicides must be buried outside the walls of the Jewish cemeteries.  
Martha's assessment of the illuminating gas in the tenements is a reference to the cause of death mentioned in the death certificate (see Mystery Monday: Max Crane) which states the cause of death was "Carbon monoxide poisoning-Illumination-(an illegible word) suicide." I think this is an excellent thought and clearly comes from Martha's insight to life in the tenements. Thanks Martha for this clarification! Martha's other important point was about burial practices for suicide victims in traditional Jewish communities, and again, I'd like to thank her for bringing this up. I was aware of the practice of not allowing suicide victims to be buried inside the walls of the cemetery and kept that fact at the back of my mind when I discovered this grave at the Montefiore Cemetery, clearly marked as part of the I J Morris society (a burial society established by the funeral home I J Morris). I was not aware of getting around the rule when there is no note or direct declaration to the family. Thanks again for this helpful explanation!

The second important feedback I received, was an in-depth blog comment from one of my regular readers +Jacqi Stevens of A Family Tapestry who shared my doubts of the accuracy of death certificates, as well as commiserated with the difficulties of researching ancestors in the vast city of New York. She suggested I contact the cemetery for possibly additional records and recommended two resources I was not familiar with, which turned out to be extremely helpful:
The Brooklyn Standard Union,
Tuesday March 24th, 1925
(Click to enlarge)
Turns out, Jacqi was right! Even tough some families tend to keep suicide quiet, at times, the story makes the news. This one did! I found a mention of the suicide in three New York Papers: The Brooklyn Standard Union, the New York Times and the New York Sun!  

This short article lists a few important facts which are different or not present on the death certificate.
  • Max Crane was a delicatessen dealer- the death certificate lists him as an advertising manager. Max Hyman Crane, my ancestor was neither as far as I know.
  • Home address was 5113 New Utrecht Ave- The death certificate lists the address as 3113 New Utrecht Ave. Pretty sure we are talking about the same Max Crane from the death certificate. 
  • Max Crane's wife was Mary Crane- the death certificate only lists her as Mrs. Crane. Max Hyman Crane' wife's name was Frieda (also spelled Fredda or Freda), not Mary. This pretty much confirms we are talking about another unfortunate Max Crane who committed suicide in New York in 1925 . 
  • The description of how the body was found states that he was seated on two pillows, on a chair near the gas stove which was lit, but not burning. This led the police to conclude it was suicide. 
  • The wife, Mary, stated he had no reason to commit suicide and did not mention it to her, therefore she doubted he took his own life. It's very possible she knew her husband was depressed and why he would have wanted to commit suicide but chose to protect the family from what could have been a very shameful situation. Her public denial of any connection to suicide would have allowed him to be buried inside the cemetery, which explains why the Max Crane from this article was buried inside the Montefiore cemetery. 
  • Missing from this article is a mention of any children. Max and Frieda had an eight year old son. The omission of a child from this article also suggests a different Max Crane.
This finding takes us back to square one. The article confirms my worry that there was more than one Max H Crane who was believed to have committed suicide in New York around 1925. Unless Frieda used the name Mary as well, I am convinced this is not the Max I am looking for. I doubt the article would have changed Frieda's name to Mary in order to protect her privacy, since publishing her address suggest there was little concern for her privacy. Unless proven otherwise, I must assume that neither the death certificate nor the Montefiore grave belong to my relative. They belong to Max H Crane, delicatessen dealer from Utrecht Street in Brooklyn, husband of Mary Crane, who died of a suspicious gas poisoning. I now must re-examine everything I thought I knew about Max's death. 

Recap of the facts regarding my great-great-uncle Max Hyman Crane's death.
  • Max died sometime between 1922 where he was listed in the 1922-23 Hartford City Directory  and June 1925 where his wife Frieda was listed as a widow in the State of New York Census.
  • Max was not listed in the 1924-1925 Hartford City Directory. I assume they both moved, but I have not documented where they lived. They are not in the New York City directory from that period. 
  • Frieda lived in Brooklyn with her brother and sisters as of 1925. I do not know where Max or Frieda lived between 1923 and 1925.
  • It is possible Max died as early as 1923 or 1924 in Hartford and that he never moved to NY with his wife. 
  • Apart from Brooklyn, they may have also lived in Atlantic City where the rest of the Crane brothers lived (since 1920), though they do not appear in the Atlantic City Directory.
  • The family rumor is that Max committed suicide because he was in love with his uncles' wife. The aunt and uncle lived in Atlantic City. 
  • The rumor is that he either drowned himself or died of gas poisoning. 
What next? 

At this point, I have to beging a new search for the whereabouts of Max Hyman Crane's elusive grave —sadly probably sitting outside a cemetery wall somewhere. My plan is to examine both Hartford Publications and Atlantic City. My next stop: Boston Public Library! I promise to keep you all posted.

To read more about Max Crane visit:
Mystery Monday: Max Crane
Should Genealogist Spill Family Secrets?


  1. Here's a good article on the Jewish policy of not burying suicides in cemeteries with everyone else. (The burial doesn't appear to have to be 'outside' the cemetery; only separated in some fashion from the rest of the graves.) In practice, there are more exceptions to the rule than examples of the rule, such that burial of suicides in cemeteries is actually quite common.

    1)If there isn't a note, or for some other reason suicide isn't definite.
    2)If there is thought that the individual wasn't 'in their right mind.'
    3)If there was enough time between the act and death the individual would have had time for repentance.

    It's the lack of time for repentance that causes the rule in the first place, as it is assumed that those who have committed any other grave sin have had time to repent.,1311/Can-a-suicide-victim-be-buried-in-a-Jewish-cemetery.html

    1. Thanks John for this great article! It does state that the law is rarely applied. I wonder if that is referring to the current period or through out history. As you know Jewish custom and interpretations of Halacha are quite fluid process and always evolving. I do know that the Crane's were much more traditional when they first immigrated to America. Over the years, they became less so, but certainly in the 1920s they would have been more observant. If this law was interpreted more strictly back then and most cemeteries would have been orthodox, then it is still likely he would have been buried in a separate area or outside the walls. I wonder if he would be listed in the cemetery records if the designated area is outside the walls?

  2. Smadar, I'm so glad that the Old Fulton Post Cards site was helpful for you.

    I am thinking of a couple other NYC databases that you might try--or possibly are already aware of--but I'm short on time right now, so don't have the links handy. One is the NYC Jewish Genealogy website. The other--and I know this is not intuitive here--is the NYC Italian Genealogy website. The reason for this second one is that it contains indexes of many NYC borough vital statistics, not just focused on Italians but all city residents. Perhaps you can Google those terms and see if you come up with the links. Otherwise, let me know, and I can check it later...

    One horrible thought about the Max Crane newspaper article with the wrong wife's name: how involved was Max with this affair? Could he have actually been at the other woman's residence when he decided to commit suicide? And the newspapers just assume Mary was his wife? I know that's a tough scenario to contemplate, but one that has been repeated in the past.

    Another thought about searches: did Frieda ever remarry? If not, is there a possibility that she might have been buried with her husband? Do you know where she was buried?

    One thing I try is using and leaving most of the info fields blank, but loading in the parents' names to see if it flushes out some other info that was either entered wrong, or changed without my being aware of the change.

    Just to play around, I went to FamilySearch and entered Max's first and last name, plus death in NYC, with a date range of 1922-1926, just in case the event was just outside your conjecture.

    While you mentioned in your previous post that you didn't find any Max Cranes in the NYC city directory for 1922, take a look at this document I found for a Max Crane, dated 1922 in Kings County. While this man's wife was named Anna (so obviously not yours), it shows what you are up against with possibly several other men in NYC with that same name.

    It also implies that you might be able to find such types of scanned images for your own Max Crane.

    This link also shows that FamilySearch now has scanned data on probate files for Kings County (where Brooklyn is). While the date span is up to only 1922, it is worth a look.

    Another idea would be to go to FamilySearch's landing page, scroll down to the bottom and click on the entry for "United States" to pull up the clickable listing of all their online holdings for New York state. While some are not yet indexed, they are still available to browse, and you may find some interesting leads through that process.

    On the other hand, given the size and complexity of NYC records...I'd opt for exhausting your alternative search in Hartford, first!

    Looking forward to your next installment...

    1. Wow Jacqi, your amazing! Thanks for spending so much time on this! I have worked with the Italian NYC database as well as the German one which is really amazing (that's where I found this death certificate), and of course the Jewish Gen. At this point, I have to go back and look everywhere again including FamilySearch and Ancestry. Having you guys give a fresh point of view is extremely helpful! It's made me really reconsider the possibility that he never moved to NY after all and I like you said Hartford and Atlantic City can not be ruled out and might and are easier places to look. I haven't find any online newspapers for either, but the I know the Boston public libraries has them on microfilm. I know there was family at both places so I might be able to find an obituary in the Jewish papers at least in either city even if he was no longer living there.

  3. Smadar, it's possible that the family simply got it wrong about Max's death. Someone may have read the article about the suicide, assumed it was the same Max Crane, and then the game of "telephone" began. Their stories became intertwined and the rest is history.

    You know for sure that Freida is a widow on the 1925 NY census, right? And you know that Max is listed on the 1920 census in Connecticut. So somewhere in between those dates there must be a record of his death and/or burial. I wouldn't limit your search to either of those places. Search for ALL the Max Cranes all over the country, then narrow it down systematically using what you know to be true (that you have documented). It could very well be that Max died in a train wreck in Topeka, Kansas, or something else completely different than what you expect (including NOT a suicide).

    1. Jenny, you are so right! It's great to have a fresh perspective since sometimes the more you know, the more focused you get on the things think you know and you stop questioning them. I'm pretty confident that he did commit suicide, since the information came from various sources but like you said, they are not first hand and until I can document it, I have to assume I "don't know!". I've been trying to document his story for three years, and receiving the death certificate was very exciting. But here we are almost at square one! You are correct about not limiting my search to any city. I'm basically starting from scratch! As always, thanks for your input!

  4. I hope your able to find more information. They have offered you some great suggestions.

    1. Thanks, Betty! They sure have! What a great online community we have!

  5. This is some spectacular sleuthing, and what a surprise! A different Max Crane! (What are the chances?) Jacqi's suggestions were right on point, and so were your cousin's. Extremely fascinating. Good luck in your Hartford and Atlantic City searches. Tracking down a family rumor can be so elusive.

    1. That is why we work so hard on documenting everything as genealogist! So many surprising twists and turns! Thanks Mariann for checking in!

  6. Here's a Frieda Crane that died in NY in 1957. A quick look at her Obit might be helpful. I know it's a stretch, but....

    Frieda Crane
    Birth: unknown
    Death: Oct. 2, 1957
    Mount Hebron Cemetery
    Queens County
    New York, USA
    Find A Grave Memorial# 77471024

    1. It's a really good thought Charlie, going after Frieda. I doubt he would be buried next to her as she was extremely angry with him (enough to destroy all his photos), but certainly could be the same cemetery and the obituary might offer information. I until you directed me to this record, I wasn't sure when she died. I but I know you are right because I just looked up the Mount Hebron Cemetery sight and they have her at the Makin society. And guess what?! She is buried next to an Isaac and Stella Levitt and a Sarah Kowensky (her siblings), and I'm pretty sure her sister Rose as well, though I'm not sure of Rose's last name. As I expected no Max is buried in the cemetery. This should still open some doors! Thanks, Charlie!!!!!


    You may have this already

    1. This record I do have! It's fabulous! Note, it says he was a good swimmer making drowning less likely!

    2. BTW, the Hyman Crane record you sent me, could not be Max's because Max died before 1925 and on the Hyman Crane the Date of Death is 1953. Still, Thanks a lot for your help! It's greatly appreciate! I'm really touched with what an amazing group of readers I have and what a wonderful online genealogy community we all have!

  8. I'm indebted to this blog and its readers for finding, among other things, the graves of both my grandfather, Max Crane, and my grandmother, Frieda Crane. By the time that Frieda died in 1957, after several years in Brooklyn State Hospital, I am sure that my father, Milton Crane, had no idea where his own father was buried. Thus I am sure that the idea of burying Frieda next to Max never came up. He was, after all, only seven at the time of Max's suicide, and the family did not talk about his father.

    -- Peter Crane

    1. Peter, Frieda is buried at: Mount Hebron Cemetery in
      Flushing, Queens County, New York, USA Block: 109 Reference: 18 Section: Lot: 1/2 LOT 306 & 1/2 OF 307 Line: Grave: 11 Society: MAKIN SOCIETY Date of Death: 10/2/1957 She is buried next to her siblings in the same society and lot. I checked the cemetery and Max is not listed there, though if he was buried "outside" he may not be listed. I think you are correct to assume she would not have chosen to be buried next to him. I am very grateful to all the fantastic followers of this blog who have given me great support, feedback and encouragement!


Thanks for sharing your comments!