Minnie’s Lament

A records search revealed a story I didn’t know was there.

Earlier this week my Twitter feed blew up. Reclaim the Records, a nonprofit advocacy group, announced that they had received access to the scanned birth, death, and marriage records held by New York City’s Department of Records and Information Services. A beta website would be immediately forthcoming. 

Genealogists’ work is often done by inches, record by record, because municipal governments like to hold on to their documents very tightly. You pay a fee, and then wait 6 weeks, or maybe 6 months to get one piece of paper. If they can find it at all. 

Watching a bunch of history geeks get unfettered access to thousands of scanned records, for free, RIGHT NOW, was like watching a pinata burst open. It’s just that the pinata was full of old, handwritten papers, and the kids were actually adults. For genealogists, this is the best kind of party.

I couldn’t give the records my full attention, but I was elated to find one thing right away. Based on other records, I’ve long suspected that two maternal great-grandparents lived next door to each other. I found the marriage record that confirms this. 

Next-door neighbors, married in her parents’ house.

This Brooklyn stoop romance of Willam and Elise features the great-grandmother I discussed in this post. Their marriage got a brief 7 years; the influenza took her in 1918. Piecing together her family line has been my proudest work, but also slow going. There have been many, many Brunjes (or Brunges, or Brünjes) in Brooklyn over the decades, and I’ve never been able to untangle their lines. With these newly available documents, maybe I could.

Elise was the first daughter of her parents, Arend and Minnie (Huppler) Brunjes. She had one younger brother, Herman. I also knew from the 1900 census that Minnie and Arend had lost a child at some point before then. 

1900 US Census excerpt.
Family tree as I understood it.

When I finally had time to dig in on Thursday night, I started opening Brunjes birth certificates one by one, logging births, dates, and parents into a spreadsheet. Like in Whitman: “… the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me.” I work better that way.

I found their boy. A son was born to Minnie and “Ahrent” in the summer of 1893. There was no name on the certificate, but now I had a solid birthdate.

It’s a boy!

I also uncovered a death record that seemed to match his age, a six-week-old baby boy dying in August 1893. The vague blur of a child comes into focus: Benjamin Brunjes. Born June 22; died August 1.

His life was cruelly short – by the time the city finalized his birth record, he was already gone. He spent the last two weeks of his life sick with cholera infantum (which is not actually cholera), which ran rampant those years. So many were lost. Poor Minnie; poor Arend.

Little Benjamin.

I logged about 50 entries, searching under every variation of spelling. It got late. My eyes were tired. Our kitten was bored and wanted attention. I must have been tired because here was the baby’s certificate again, but I had already logged it.


This was a second certificate, for a second baby.

Record 9913… and record 9914. Mother of child: 2… and mother of child: 3. Same day, same place, same parents, same doctors.

TWO boys.

Minnie had given birth to twin boys that summer afternoon. 

No wonder there were no names on the certificates – Minnie and Arend were probably too surprised. Their joy, but my confusion. Why would Minnie tell the 1900 census that she had lost one, when it was actually two? And who was this? Where was he?

I took a night to regroup and consider my resources. The next morning, armed with fresh coffee, I started at the NY records site. Perhaps his brother’s death certificate was close by in number? It was not logged within 20 certificates of his, so I moved on.

My greatest stroke of genealogy luck has been to have relatives interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The management of Green-Wood, bless them and keep them, has a useful burial search tool on their website (not all cemeteries do). 

Screenshot from Green-Wood Cemetery website.

There is Benjamin, buried on August 3. Two days later, a Theodore Brunjes was buried in the same lot, same section, same grave. Also nearby: the boys’ grandfather, their uncle, a cousin.

His name was Theodore. 

Little Theo.

Municipal offices want to treat records as bricks: discrete and identical, to be moved or sold as needed. But where they see bricks, genealogists see a wall, or a home, or a church. We see what results when you put those bricks together.

When I put those bricks together, I can see stories. I see parents who had to put their babies in the ground, twice in one week.

And I see them years later, in their living room, congratulating their daughter and new son-in-law.

Family, restored.

© 2022 Tori Brovet/All rights reserved. GraveyardSnoop — at — gmail.com.

Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 2)

Feb. 16, 1921; Santa Barbara, Calif.

Caroline Townsend Comstock had been married in a bohemian ceremony, at dawn, on the top of a mountain. Her husband designed bookplates and was an expert lepidopterist. They began their married life in an artists’ colony. She knew about choosing a life outside the mainstream. And she also recognized that this was beyond even that.

“I knew something like this would happen,” she said with resignation.


Continue reading “Mother Love: The Townsends (Pt 2)”

Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 5)

Catch up with Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4

And just like that, she was gone.

The Windsor Star; Windsor, Ontario; 30 Nov 1927

Lady Bledzo failed to make her two court appearances on Nov. 7, 1927, and seemingly vanished. There were a few casual mentions in newspaper articles reminiscing about her ex-boyfriend, Yellow Kid Weil, but never again was in she in the news for herself, and never again under that name.

It was her curious name that drew me to this story in the first place, and its disappearance convinced me that I could never know her true ending. What I had seen of her life didn’t promise a good finish. I resigned myself to the idea that she probably died somewhere seedy, unknown and alone.

Continue reading “Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 5)”

Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 4)

Catch up with Part 1; Part 2; Part 3

The summer of 1927 had been the peak of drama for Lady Bledzo. As part of her very public lawsuit against ex-fiance Darby Day, Jr., she had appeared in national newspapers. She garnered the support of sympathetic and powerful media. She had provided letters, photos of injuries, and compelling and dramatic testimony about abuse. Lady Bledzo had given it her all.

And yet it failed utterly.

Continue reading “Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 4)”

Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 3)

Content warning: This post discusses domestic violence. It includes photos, discussion, and depictions of physical abuse.

Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2

Chicago, 1926

The first half of 1926 was mostly thorns, few roses for Lady Bledzo. In just four short months, her boyfriend (and chief funder) “Yellow Kid” Weil went to prison; she was attacked by his wife; she moved from hotel to hotel; and her face was cut up in a car crash.

Chicago_Daily_News_1926-07-22_4 car crash
Chicago Daily News, July 22, 1926

Whatever Lady Bledzo was trying to achieve in life, this was probably not it.

Continue reading “Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 3)”

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