Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mystery Monday: Max Crane

Remember Max Crane?

I shared Max's sad story a few weeks ago in the post Should Genealogist Spill Family Secrets?. His life ended tragically when he committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and young child. The mystery of Max's story continues due to the lack of documentation and information about Max. Much hope was pinned to a death certificate I ordered from City of New York recently. It arrived last week and I've been pondering it ever since. I so hoped to report to you all, that the document I received belonged to "my" Max Crane. Unfortunately, I can't. It seems I'm on a streak of finding interesting, yet inconclusive documents. The good news? These documents make for interesting blog posts! The bad news? There are many more questions than answers related to this certificate. Therefore, once again, I decided to turn to my expert panel of readers for advice.

I present to you the document in question:
Max H Crane
Death Certificate
March 24, 1925
(Click to enlarge).
For your convenience, here is a summary of the information obtained from the death certificate:
  • Name: Max H Crane: consistent with my great-uncle Max Hyman Crane
  • White, married male age thirty-five: all consistent with what I know of Max Hyman Crane who was an Ashkenazi Jew, married to Frieda Levitt and would have been about 35 when he died. 
  • Occupation: Advertising Manager- this is not quite consistent. All I know about Max's work history from my great-grandmother's memoir, city directory, WWI draft record and census documents is that he was a grocery clerk. He did hold other odd jobs including meat cutter. It is possible that he advanced to advertising manager by his last job, but this would be new information to me.
  • Birthplace: Russia. Consistent. I wish this death certificate included his date of birth, but unfortunately it was left blank.
  • How long in the US: seventeen years. Max Hyman Crane arrived in 1905 (according to Minnie's Memoir as well as his immigration papers). He lived in the US for twenty years by 1925 (close enough, but not exactly seventeen years).
  • How long in NYC: 3 years. I know Max moved to NY with his wife and son sometime between the 1920 US census where he lived in Hartford and 1925 when he died in NY. This is consistent, though I don't know when they moved. 
  • Name and birthplace of parents: Isaac and Rebecca both from Russia. PROBLEM!!! Max Hyman's parents were Moshe Aaron and Feige. This completely doesn't fit!
  • Date of Death: March 25, 1925- Consistent. I know Max died around 1925. By June 1st of 1925 Frieda is a widow, according to the New York State Census. She was living at 1379, 54th Street in Brooklyn (with her brother Isaac and several of her sisters). If this truly was Max Hyman Crane, he would have turned thirty-six nine days before he committed suicide.
  • Body was found at: 3113 New Utrecht Ave, Brooklyn- This is consistent with the fact that Frieda was living in Brooklyn in 1925. It's not her brother's address, suggesting that the Cranes lived independently and Fieda would have moved in with her family once she became a widow.
  • Cause of death: Carbon monoxide poisoning-Illumination-(an illegible word) suicide. I'm not sure what illumination means as part of the cause of death, but suicide is consistent Crane family elder's story.
  • Place of Burial: Montefiore Cemetery- Possible. I don't know where Max Hyman Crane was buried. 
The second page of the death certificate states that Mrs. Crane hired the undertakers. Unfortunately it doesn't state her full name.

Page two of Max H Crane death certificate.
(Click to enlarge)

The most glaring problem in this record is the name of the parents which are inconsistent with what I know about Max Hyman. The other inconsistencies are minor (length of time in America, seventeen rather than twenty years, and the occupation). Can a mistake in the parents names be generated by the person who filed the death certificate. Mrs Crane, wife of the deceased hired the undertakers, but did she provide the information or did someone else, for example her brother Isaac? Isaac was living in Brooklyn, and we know he offered her a home once she was widowed  so clearly they were close. He certainly could have been called to do the difficult task of dealing with funeral arrangements. Would he have known Max's parents names? Max's brothers were living in Atlantic City by 1925 and his sister Minnie was in Texas. It's doubtful they provided the information as it's unlikely they would have arrived on time. Frieda herself was probably in a very bad state. Her husband who had been involved in a nasty extramarital affair, had just committed suicide. It's very probable that she asked someone close to her to deal with the logistics. The fact that there is no date of birth, also suggests that someone not so close to Max provided the information. Someone who didn't know his date of birth, which would exclude his wife and or his siblings.

How many other Max H Crane's committed suicide in New York City in 1925? What is the likelihood that this certificate belongs to a different Max H Crane? To answer this question, I scanned the New York City directories. The 1920-21 1922-23 and the 1924-5 directories are available on I know Max was in Hartford in 1920, so I didn't need to check 1920. I found no Max Cranes in either the 1922 or the 1925 directories. This implies that, if as the death certificate states Max lived in NY for three years, and if it does belong to our Max, then Max and Frieda, most likely moved to New York, after the 1922 directory came out. (Note to self: trace Max in the Hartford City directories from 1920-1923). The fact that he does not appear in the 1925 city directory most likely means one of two things. Either he just didn't appear in the directory at all (not everyone did), or he died before this directory came out as well. One thing is clear though, despite how common the name Max Crane might be, there were no other Max Cranes in Manhattan or it's boroughs listed in the early 1920s. Therefore there is a very low probability that another resident with the same name committed suicide and could be confused with the Max Hyman Crane I'm trying to identify.

I may never know for certain if this is the correct record. If it is, it does divulge one important piece of information about Max and how he died. The way Max committed suicide is a family myth amongst the Cranes. One story talks about drowning while the other has to do with a gas oven. According to this document, it was carbon monoxide poisoning pointing towards the gas stove scenario.

I have one thought of how to confirm this document. I need to find Max's grave! The Max H Crane from the death certificate is buried at the Montefiore Cemetery, which is in Queens County, NY. Through the cemetery website, I found the exact plot for Max H Crane.  I have created a monument for him on, where I've had success in the past obtaining photos of tombstones from helpful volunteers. My hope is that the headstone will contain not only his date of death, but also date of birth and more information such as a Hebrew name or his father's name. My hunch is that Max's siblings may have been involved in obtaining a proper tombstone In Jewish tradition the headstone is unveiled at the conclusion of a one year grieving period. It's very likely that a year later, everyone was far enough removed from the suicide and the anger of the affair, to ensure a proper headstone.

For now, the mystery the handsome Max Crane, the first of the Crane brothers to come to America, continues. As always, I would love to hear from all of you with thoughts and ideas!


  1. Smadar, I sympathize with you especially over the aspect of having to unravel this mystery in the city of New York! With the masses of people there, and the newspapers of record being such that would be unlikely to carry this man's obituary, it is indeed hard to trace his whereabouts (unless you know of some neighborhood or ethnic publication that might be of help).

    I've learned from research experience that death certificates are notoriously poor for obtaining that specific missing detail you were hoping to capture! Your scenario is most likely accurate--that of another relative providing the information for the death certificate. It might likely have been Isaac, who wouldn't know those details of date of birth, etc. (That's why I'm always thankful for those governmental jurisdictions who included a field for "informant" on their death certificates!)

    If the cemetery where he was buried has contact information, I'd heartily recommend you not only go the route of requesting Find A Grave volunteer help for headstone photographs, but also to call the cemetery. The cemetery office may have other information, like who purchased the plot. You'd be surprised at how much more information some cemeteries of those times included in their records, so it is worth a try. Also, while this is somewhat beyond the age of the custom of purchasing family plots, ask whether there is anyone else buried with this Max. For one thing, if there are a wife and kids in the same plot, well...there you have your answer right up front! Another possibility might be that he is actually buried in another family's pre-existent plot, in which case you might uncover other family members' names (unless it turns out to be an extra space in a friend's plot or something like that). I have seen both types of scenarios in my own searches.

    There is an online resource for a Brooklyn newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle though I don't think the date range goes as late as the 1920s, but it is worth a search. Also, don't forget to see if there are any mentions in the Old Fulton Post Cards website, which carries newspapers from the entire region (and beyond). Sometimes, suicides were hushed up by family; other times, they are considered news items.

    1. Jacqui, you are so right. Having ancestors in NY can be a good and a bad thing. Even back then it was so vast, the tenements so big, especially with a fairly common name. On the other hand, lots of records are available online and more all the time, which can be very helpful.
      I'm glad you agree with my assessment that the informant in this case was not very close to Max and therefore could have generated this mistakes.
      Your suggestions are amazing! I certainly will call the cemetery and most likely pay them a visit one day in the near future. I will certainly look in the newspaper sites you mentioned as well as the post card site. They are both new to me and I'm glad to add them to my list of research sites! Thanks for the tip! I appreciate it and I'm sure my other readers will as well!

  2. Smadar, I couldn't sleep last night and I was piddling around on Ancestry and FamilySearch and came across what I think is your Max Crane family (Max, Freida, and Milton). Milton attended college somewhere, likely in New York. If those records still exist (and if you can determine which college he attended), perhaps there is some mention on his father in his entrance paperwork.

    Also - have you been able to find Max's immigration record? I noticed on the 1920 census he says he immigrated in 1912 and was naturalized in 1917. He had to have been naturalized before March 1917 because (if it is the same Max Crane), the Connecticut military census (Mar 1917) and his WWI Draft Registration (Jun 1917) both say he was naturalized by that time.

    You have the most interesting ancestors. Seriously.

    P.S. You probably already have the records I mentioned here, but in case you don't, I have links for you. Just let me know.

    1. Jenny, you are good! I'm glad my family helped keep you entertained while you couldn't sleep! I am also glad we are both night owls. I'll look out for you when I'm up late digging for ancestors!
      Sounds like you found "my Max", most of the documents you mentioned, I do have (see the Should Genealogist Spill Family Secrets? post). He actually immigrated in 1905. I put that information together initially from my great-grandmother's memoir. In another section which I didn't quote in the post, she describes the house she grew up in (a wooden shack her father built himself). She talks about the barn with a large wooden double door, which Max painted white with the numbers 19 on the left and 04 on the right. She was about eight then and hadn't gone to school regularly. He explained to her that it was the year they were living in an that was the first time she became aware the calendar. He left shortly after that (and according to her took almost a year to arrive in America).
      As for Milton, he did study at Columbia, then Harvard and eventually taught at George Washington. He's passed away already. I'm in touch with his son (we met at the Kranowitz family reunion I organized). They were very much in the dark about Max. His grandmother Frieda destroyed all the pictures of Max and the subject was taboo. The two pictures I discovered are the only surviving pictures of him and the first he saw of his grandfather. What my my great-grandmother wrote about Max was more information than they ever knew about him.
      I'm not sure why the 1920 census states he immigrated in 1912 and was naturalized by 1917. He actually filed the declaration of intent in Nov 1906, the petition for naturalization in 1912 and the certificate of naturalization was issued on Jan 3rd 1913. I just looked back at the documents and they didn't send me the actual certificate. I wonder if there was a delay and it wasn't actually issued until much later. I guess that's possible. I might have to request it.
      I don't know if everyone in my family is so interesting, but Max really is. I'm determined to learn more about how he died and it seems every time I get a step closer and then back track. It's fairly easy to track him through the Connecticut New Britain and Hartford from as early as 1907 (of course I had the memoir as I guide which helped a lot). It's after 1922 the he completely vanishes (from the memoir as well).


Thanks for sharing your comments!