Oh, I am so sad. I got the death certificate for Hulda Wolbern (nee Lindemann) in the mail today. (Thank you, New York City Municipal Archives! I complained, but a 2 month wait is not too bad...) I knew this was going to be an emotional moment for me, possibly the MOST emotional moment for me as a genealogist, and I wasn't wrong. I think this is the most heartbreaking record I've ever had to look at. I'm not entirely sure why. I've dealt with records for my own family and for clients where someone died young - in their 20s, leaving behind a wife and young kids, or even a kid themselves, never getting the chance to grow up and leave behind a legacy of their own. But I think there's just something about the manner of Hulda's death, the personal family tragedy behind it and the greater New York, German-American and American tragedy behind it. Hulda's death certificate tells me not just about the circumstances surrounding her death...it represents the deaths of all the women and children who died in the General Slocum steamboat disaster June 15, 1904.
So what does this death record say and look like? It's from the Bronx, even though Hulda lived in Brooklyn. Most of the victims have Bronx death certificates because that was the borough closest to the disaster. The actual date of the certificate is June 21, 1904, because it took a few days for Hulda's body to be identified. Place of death: East River, off Port Morris (the southern tip of the Bronx, right across from Randall's Island). Character of premises (such as whether a home, hospital, etc.): Steamboat, "General Slocum". She was married, 28 years old, born in Germany and living in the U.S. and New York for 18 years (which means I can look for an immigration record from around 1886). Her father was Caspar Lindemann. Her mother, for some reason, is not listed.
The certificate was filled out by Joseph I. Berry, Bronx borough coroner, and he identified Hulda's body in the morgue. The certificate says an inquest is pending - I wonder if that's particular to Hulda or to the General Slocum victims in general, if that inquest is public information, and if I would have the heart and stomach to ever read it if I could get my hands on it...
After his examination, Mr. Berry determined that Hulda's cause of death was "asphyxia submersion." So Hulda didn't die in the fire - she drowned, as most of the victims did. She is buried in Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, as many of my German ancestors are. On the second page of the report, we see that the undertaker was R. Stutzman. Rudolph Stutzmann was my great-great grandfather. Hulda Wolbern was his wife's sister. Rudolph helped care for the remains of many of his (and therefore my) family members but I wonder if it was particularly hard caring for his sister-in-law. I wonder if it was comforting to his wife Augusta and her parents and siblings, knowing that in the end their sister and daughter was in the hands of a loving family member.
Life is not endless. It's a journey with an off ramp that everyone must take. When it happens, it's sad but it's a fact of life. I've seen hundreds of death records. Everyone gets one eventually. But when it happens, we hope it's after a long, fulfilling life and that the manner is a peaceful one. I can look at all these records somewhat objectively usually, but Hulda's record is very emotional for me - because she was a young mother, because she lost her infant son, because they both died under such tragic circumstances. I couldn't find you forever, Hulda, but I hope you know you and your little boy aren't lost anymore. I found you. You are remembered.
You can read more about Hulda and the General Slocum steamboat disaster in my other blog posts here:
And thanks again to the German Genealogy Group for helping me solve this mystery!