Friday, September 6, 2013

DEATH AT AGE OF 103 - Isaac Shaffer

I have often told stories in this blog of children who die, either from accident or disease.  This week I thought we'd go to the other end of the spectrum and look at someone who died at the ripe old age of 103 - Isaac Shaffer.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of June 18, 1936 carried the following obituary:

Let's see what we can find out about this man who lived 33 years beyond the biblical "three score and ten". You would think that someone who lived to be over 100 years old would leave a lengthy trail of records, but in this case, just the opposite is true.  It was very hard to find any records for Shaffer or his family.  Let's look first at what I could find:  

According to his death certificate, Isaac Shaffer was born Israel Shaffer on March 10, 1833 in Lutnick, Russia.  His father's name (Anglicized) was Harry Shaffer; mother's name unknown.

The next record I found on Isaac is in 1910 Census.  In 1910, Isaac and his wife "Tailba" lived at 1302 N. Claremont Avenue in Chicago.  They told the census taker that they had been married for forty years, and that they had five children, all of whom were living in 1910.  They indicated that they came to the US in 1902, but in 1910 were naturalized citizens of the US.  Isaac's primary language was Yiddish, although he could speak English - Tailba was limited to Yiddish. Neither of them were working in 1910, but both could read and write, as could most Jews of the era.  Unfortunately, 1302 N. Claremont is now a vacant lot.

Through other sources I was able to find three of their five children:  Lawrence (b. 1882), Sam (b. 1892) and Bessie (b. 1893).

Believe it or not, here's where the trail on Israel/Isaac goes cold.  I checked every possible combination of names and spellings, but could only find the Shaffers in the 1910 Census.  Nothing for 1920 or 1930.

Now let's take a look at the tombstone to see if anything can be learned from that.  The death certificate says Cong. Esras Israel, in Proviso, Illinois.  Esras Israel is one of the gates at Jewish Waldheim - Gate 35. Here is a photo of the tombstone of Isaac and his wife:

I had one of my friends translate the Hebrew to see if there were any clues there.  Isaac's says "The important man Isaac (Yitschak) son of Gershon"

His wife's inscription is almost entirely in Hebrew except for "Age 95 Yrs - at Rest."  The translation of the Hebrew for her is: "Toive, daughter of Hillel".  So Toive would be the Taube from the 1910 Census.  I found her death certificate from October 31, 1929 under "Tillie" Schaffer:

When Tillie died in 1929, the Shaffers were still living at 1302 N. Claremont.  By the time Isaac died in 1936, he was living at 1301 N. Campbell in Chicago, which is still standing:

1301 N. Campbell, Chicago

But wait a minute - Israel/Isaac's death certificate says he is widowed but lists his wife as "Sarah" - not Tillie/Toive/Taube.  Did Isaac marry again after Taube's death and outlive the second wife?   I did find a record for an Isaac Shaffer marrying a Sarah Moss but that was in May of 1864, so not the one I am looking for.

One last observation:  people tend to think that if information is listed on an "official" document (birth, marriage, death, census) that it must be correct.  Unfortunately that is not true generally, nor is it true with Isaac and Toive.

Isaac's death certificate lists his date of birth as March 10, 1833, in Lutnick, Russia.  It is very unusual for a Russian Jewish immigrant of that time to know their date of birth so exactly.  In the Jewish shtetls of that era, birth records were not kept, and if a calendar was used at all, it was the Jewish calendar, which does not correspond directly to the Gregorian calendar.  That's why many of these immigrants chose national holidays as their birth dates - they chose a date they could remember. 

We have limited records for Israel/Isaac, but let's see if they line up.

Birth year from death certificate:  1833
Age listed on 1910 Census:  70
Birth year based on 1910 Census:  1840

If Isaac had been born in 1833, he should have told the census taker that he was 77, not 70.

Let's see if Toive's dates line up:

Birth year from death certificate:   1837
Age listed on 1910 Census:  66
Birth year based on 1910 Census:  1844
Age from tombstone:  95

If Toive had been 95 in 1929, her year of birth would have been 1834. In 1910 she should have told the census taker that she was 76, not 66.

Was Isaac Shaffer really 103 when he died in 1936?  Was Toive Shaffer really 95 when she died in 1929? We'll never know for sure, but you can't always believe something just because it is on an "official" document.  You have to weigh each piece of information against the other information you have uncovered.  

Israel Shaffer

Taube Shaffer

May Israel and Taube Shaffer rest in peace.

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