In the wake of the genealogy conference, I was buzzing with a surge of energy. Laurie sent me one of David’s passport applications from 1922 to examine. My eyes fell upon the multi-page tome of documents, alternating between Yiddish and English. full of information on his origins his family in the region of Galicia, his travel plans and stern photograph glaring at me.
What happened to you? My mind whispered to the ghost of David, silently.
The wheels were beginning to spin. An internal pull from my heart led my fingertips to press the “tab” button on my computer. What was revealed over the course of several days blew my mind.
“What happened to Rose and David?” This question laid looming after my grandmother revealed the horror of Rose’s reality. The question echoed like eerie voices from the past; like a mystery that was meant to be uncovered from beyond.
My third cousin, Laurie, and I discussed the possibilities for almost a year, dredging up possible theories both out of the air and based on some of the stories my grandmother shared with us.
Maybe David returned to Europe, left Rose and his children behind and never came back.
Maybe he died between 1925 and 1930 and everything my grandmother and Laurie’s family shared with her was actually hearsay.
Maybe he ran away with another woman and completely changed his name.
My heart at times ached for Rose, my great-great aunt, Laurie’s great-grandmother, my grandmother’s aunt.
I had to find out. I had to know.
With each document unearthed, the scarcely filled binding of the book of Rose began filling up her stories. Page after page; layer after layer. I felt like as I was researching, as we were researching, Rose was able to tell her story. She had the chance to let go of the pain she carried on her back and in her heart, even in generations passed. I felt the anvil of her life being lifted off.
Multiple Passport Applications and Ship Manifests for David: I could picture Rose, heart heavy waiting at home in absence for her husband who went and returned Europe for months at a time, at times visiting his mother and family, at other times travelling.
Census Records, Draft Registrations, Naturalization Documents, and Passport Applications: Bustling from house to house at least 8 times with David and her children between 1905 and 1925. No real foundation of a home. Again, in 1930 with her children the floors of her home were dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere, but without David in sight.
Family Stories: My mind reeled as I thought about the stories of abuse and neglect added to the mix.
Census Records & Vital Record: By 1930 she was listed as a widow and even on her death certificate in 1948, her own son, Herman, declared on her death certificate that she was a widow to David. But David was nowhere to be found- no more census records, no U.S. Passport, and certainly no death certificate.
For years, there were so many unanswered questions. Where was he? Why did Rose say she was a widow? What did she tell her children about the disappearance of her husband? Did he actually die or did something else happen?
Then, it occured to me, sometimes “widow” in the census records at that time in history did not mean widowed at all.
With the stigma of divorce so rampant during that time, “widow”, for many women, was better than listing divorce.
My eyes couldn’t believe what I found about David. My heart ached for Rose, for her children.
The last time I was able to see David with his children and Rose was 1925 in the census records. It was the first indication that the family rumors were more than rumors.
The rumors were true. The speculation and the story the family had be telling for decades revealed itself.
While Rose was raising 3 of her children alone in Brooklyn, in 1930, David was married to and living with a woman, Anna and their son Joseph, age 4- the four brothers’ half brother.
And then, by 1940 (and probably by 1935), David, Anna and Joseph packed their belongings and moved over 3,000 miles to Los Angeles while his other four children remained in New York. He disappeared from his first family without a trace.
How did this happen? How did they meet?
After some more research and more digging, I discovered Anna arrived to the United States for the first time on the same boat and on the same day as David when he returned back from Europe in 1922. I discovered her final destination was Los Angeles. While it’s speculatory, David may have met her on the boat over or may have known her from back in Europe (although their hometowns aren’t very close), and they planned to get married upon arrival in the United States. How they met is not clear, but the fact they were on the same boat made me, and still makes me, wonder.
The tragedy of the man who left his family came to a sudden end. David’s lifeless body was found in his Los Angeles home on 3 June 1949, only two years before his Joseph was to marry. His family finding out he killed himself with barbiturates. I can imagine the feeling and look of horror, the shadow that crept into the room, as Anna and their son Joseph discovered the fate of their husband and father.
Why did David leave? Why did he kill himself? What pain must he have been experiencing?
For now we can only speculate. Perhaps down the read we can learn more about the elusive man named David.
Genealogical research, research for the documents isn’t always so dry and boring.
It gives voice to the stories that were not able to be told.
My great-great aunt Rose’s story now has a voice.
NOTE: David is not biologically related to me, he was married to Rose who is my great-grandfather’s sister.
*”US Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2018), Passport Application, application 164279, 8 May 1922, David Field; citing NARA Microfilm publications M140, roll 1954.
**Rose Field née Polay photograph, ca. 1905; digital image 2018, privately held by Laurie Liberty née Field [Address Held for Privacy]; Laurie shared a digital copy with, genealogist, Jaclyn Wallach. The photograph depicts Rose standing in a black dress and is cropped from the original photograph which includes David Field and her first-born son George (less than 1 year old).