Case File: Marriage Of Convenience


I'd always thought my great aunt Evelyn Freundlich had been a spinster all of her life, then my mother told me that she'd heard rumors in the family that Evelyn had actually married after the First World War.
B & C Malcolm, Danbury, CT


The way my mother told the story it sounded like this had always been one of those family secrets that was kept securely hidden with the other skeletons in the closet. The more people wouldn't talk about it, the more I wanted to know.

All I knew about Evelyn's life around 1918 was that she lived in Manhattan and attended Teachers College, Columbia University. The papers she'd left when she died showed no indication of her marriage. All I knew of the family rumor was that she'd married, and he'd run off on their honeymoon cruise to Europe.

I started my search in the most obvious place: the marriage records for Brooklyn. I quickly learned that New York City marriage records for that period were very complicated. Both the Department of Health and the City Clerk's office had them, but the City Clerk's records had better information.

Before I made my way to the New York City Municipal Archives, I had to figure out what microfilm record number to have pulled. I was lucky to find a Web site that had access to all the microfilm indexes for New York City in the early 20th century. I was not so lucky, though: As I didn't know exactly when she was married or the name of her groom, I had to troll through five years worth of microfilm, as New York City only lists the name of the groom in the index. This meant I had to review "Bride's Index Cards" which listed 10 brides per card and gave a reference number to the actual certificate.

I quickly became frustrated and realized I didn't know enough about Evelyn. On a hunch, I looked into the alumni records for Teachers College in the hopes they could tell me more about her. All I learned was when she matriculated. Discouraged, and frankly, bored, I began nosing around for other information about the Freundlich family, most of whom lived in Brooklyn.

A 1920s census search also took a lot of time and patience. The original cards filled out by census takers are all on microfilm and I was able to access them at the New York Public Library. I knew to take this search slowly. I identified 45 Freundlich families in Brooklyn and had to plod through 28 of them before I recognized the name of my greatgrandfather, Nathan. But what luck! I discovered that my great aunt was living with her brother at the time.

That little find renewed my interest in the Evelyn search and I eventually found her name in the Bride's Index for 1921 Brooklyn. She had married an Abraham Baum in May of 1921.

It was likely he was a veteran of the First World War. I did an online request for his veteran's record at the National Archive and learned that he was stationed in France.

In order to build a better picture of their married life together, I perused the passenger ship lists for that period to see if they'd indeed gone off on a honeymoon cruise. I found them, they were on the SS Victor, it was a cruise to France.

I still have a lot of research to do to discover more about Mr. Baum, but in the meantime, I'm speculating he got married to please his parents (a nice Jewish boy should marry a nice Jewish girl), then ditched Evelyn for a woman he'd met while serving in France.

This summer I plan to go to the National Archives in France to further investigate my suspicion. And if that doesn't pan out, I'll eat some nice pastries and drink wine instead!

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