Friday, October 24, 2014


While photographing graves at the Free Sons Section of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, I happened to glance down at a tombstone:

This one marked the grave of "Our Son and Beloved Brother Michael Alexander."  He was born in 1891 and died in 1916 at the age of 24.

I looked a little closer, and Michael seemed to be looking right at me, with a casual half-smile and open white shirt:

His death in 1916 was too early for the Spanish influenza so I wondered exactly what  caused the death of one so young, who appears so healthy in his photo.  Let's see what we can find out about young Mr. Alexander:

Michael Alexander was born August 15, 1891 to Herman Alexander (1869-1942) and Rosa, nee Lowenstein (1867-1931).  Herman came to the US from Frankfurt, Germany in 1887 when he was eighteen years old.  He was a butcher in Germany.  He did not mention it, but it would not surprise me if he had been a shochet in Germany.  Many shochetim went into the meat processing industry after they came to the US.

Rosa Lowenstein also came from Germany, and depending on which source you read, she came to the US in either 1886, 1888 or 1889.

One thing we do know for sure, Herman Alexander and Rosa Lowenstein were married in 1890 in New York City.  In 1896 or 1897, the Alexanders had moved to Chicago - and what better place for someone in the meat processing industry?  Because of its central location by rail, Chicago was the world's largest processor of meat and meat byproducts. 

Herman and Rosa had six children in total:  Rebecca (1890-1946), Michael (1891-1916), Simon/Samuel (1893-1947), Nathan (1895-1932), Sidney (1899-1988) and Birdye/Bertha (1906-2000). 

The 1900 US Census shows the Alexanders living at 281 (now 221 E.) Thirty-fifth Street in Chicago. Today a McDonalds Restaurant sits on that spot.  Herman lists his occupation as "Provision Dealer". Rosa said that she had given birth to seven children; five of whom were still alive in 1900.  The Alexanders must be doing well for themselves - they have a live-in servant - seventeen year old Anissa Kregg from Germany.

By 1910 the Alexander family has moved to 3813 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today there is a Chicago Housing Authority building on that site.  Herman listed his occupation as "Butcher", and indicated that the Alexander's native language was "German", as opposed to Eastern European Jewish immigrants who usually indicated their native language as Yiddish.   Eighteen year old "Mike" indicated that his occupation was "Driver" of a "Grocery Wagon."

The next mention we have of Michael Alexander is his death certificate:

In January of 1916 the Alexander family moved down the street to 3841 S. Rhodes Avenue in Chicago.  Today this is a vacant lot also owned by the Chicago Housing Authority:

3841 S. Rhodes Avenue, Chicago

Michael Alexander died April 24, 1916 after being ill for only five days.  The cause of death was "Acute double lobar pneumonia", complicated by "Endocarditis" - an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart.  The informant for the death certificate was "A. Alexander."  I could not find any record of an "A. Alexander" except for "Sidney A. Alexander."  Michael's occupation is listed as "Meat Salesman."  Michael's younger brother Sidney would go on to found S.A. Alexander Meat Wholesalers at the Union Stockyards in Chicago.

Here is Michael's Death Notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of April 26, 1916:

In an unusual move, Michael's funeral and burial was not held until three days after his death.

And that is all I was able to find out about Michael Alexander.  Frankly that's the way it is with 90% of genealogy research.  I have over 1,000 people in my family tree and there is no one famous, nor infamous in my lines.  Most people we research are born, they live, they get married, they have children, they die.  Some are immigrants, some serve in the military, some may even hold public office, but their lives are not notorious in any particular way.  They used to say that a lady's name should only appear in the newspapers three times:  when she is born, when she is married, and when she dies.  Unfortunately Michael Alexander couldn't even match that - his name was in the newspaper only once.

However, that is not to say that Michael Alexander should be forgotten - doubtless he loved and was loved by others.  I am sure that tears were shed at his funeral over the loss of one who's adult life was just beginning.

Michael Alexander - neither famous nor infamous, but taken from us too soon.  May he rest in peace.

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