Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Genealogy Success Story: Hurt-filled, but important revelations


Actual orphanage record of Aaron Haber.

Marilyn Macklin's story as told by Gloria Green

"My Jewish Roots" Workshops, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Orlando (JGSGO) continue in February with the workshop: "The Changing Borders of Eastern Europe."

If you've seen Neil Simon's brilliant comedy, "Brighton Beach Memoirs," you will likely remember the character Kate saying "Max Green will be at our table. He's the one whose wife died of 'tuberculosis' (said in a whisper)."

Imagine looking into your family history and finding this painful clue as to what marked the core of a quiet, enigmatic member of the family-your father.

That is what happened when Marilyn Macklin began researching her father's family history three years ago, with help from several "mavens" at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (JGSGO).

Macklin's father, Aaron Haber, was born in May of 1914 in Philadelphia to Max and Fannie Haber. Aaron was their only child.

Macklin knew that in 1916, her father's father had left his family in Philadelphia, but it was not known why or where he went. Family lore was that when Aaron's mother died a few years later, he was left in the care of his grandfather, who was unable to take care of his 5-year-old grandson. The boy's uncle, Izzie, placed Aaron in an orphanage around 1919.

At the end of the 19th century, tuberculosis was dubbed the "Jewish disease" or the "tailor's disease." Aaron's maternal grandfather, Harris Levy, was a tailor.

Macklin's first discovery in her research was that her father's mother, Fannie Haber, had died in 1918. The assumption was that she had died as a result of the Swine Flu Epidemic that killed 20 million people throughout the world that year. Tracking down Fannie's death certificate, Macklin found that her grandmother had died at the young age of 26 of lobar pneumonia. According to Wikipedia "Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the tubercle bacillus, may also cause lobar pneumonia if pulmonary tuberculosis is not treated promptly." A death certificate for Fannie's sister, Rose Levy, indicated Rose had died two years earlier in 1916 at age 23, also of tuberculosis! And then Macklin recently found a record showing details of the death of Max, Fannie's husband/Aaron's father. When he left the family in 1916, it was to go for treatment for tuberculosis in Colorado. The dry, fresh mountain air began attracting people with tuberculosis to Colorado beginning in the late 19th century. Max landed at National Jewish Health, an academic medical research facility located in Denver, which was founded in 1899 to treat tuberculosis and other diseases. Whatever treatment Max had obviously didn't work, or was too late, and he died in May of 1917.

Orphaned five-year-old Aaron was taken in by his grandfather after his mother died in October of 1918. That placement lasted only a short time as his grandfather also died in December of that year. In January 1920, Aaron's Uncle Izzie placed Aaron in an orphanage-The Philadelphia Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum of Philadelphia. The "Home" was established as "an institution wherein the orphans or the children of indigent Israelites may be rescued from the evils of ignorance and vice, comfortably provided for, instructed in moral and religious duties and thus prepared to become useful members of society." While the children attended public schools, Orthodox religion was practiced in the Home.

Macklin always knew her father had grown up in an orphanage. During a research trip to Philadelphia she discovered the original building was still standing, and she was able to access the archives. Amazingly, they still had the original books in which the children had been signed in and out and which kept track of family status. In 1929, when Aaron was 15, family in Newark, New Jersey, took him in and he worked in the family's grocery store. In time, he managed to earn his GED, met and married his wife. Aaron worked for ITT in New Jersey for over 25 years. He passed away in Winter Park in 2005 at the age of 91.

"It was a journey of heartbreak, but knowing what my father went through as a child is a relief," Marcklin explained. "I now know why father thought and did some of the things he did. Trauma left its scars, but made him a better, kinder person."

You can learn how to access many important resources at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando's (JGSGO) "My Jewish Roots" workshops. The next one is "The Changing Borders of Eastern Europe" featuring International Association of Genealogical Societies expert Hal Bookbinder on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at The Roth Jewish Community Center, 851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland, Fla. The workshop is free and open to the public. Bring your own laptop to participate in the lab portion. It is also possible to attend via the Internet. Pre-registration is required. Pre-register for either in-person or online participation at http://www.jgsgo.org/MyJewishRoots.


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