Category Archives: Kansas City

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby . . .Not So Fast

Ugly Children

Ugly Children

Joan Rivers says that when she comes across an ugly baby and can’t think of what to say, she comments on how nice the crib is!

Here is some background in case you haven’t read my earlier posts. My older brother and I were both adopted from The Willows Maternity Sanitarium in Kansas City, Missouri. We aren’t related genetically, but grew up together and are close. As close as two complete recluses can be.

My brother is four years older. After my parents adopted him, they immediately set the wheels in motion to adopt another baby. Single child households were not common back in the late 1940’s – early 1950’s as these were the baby boom years after WWII.

In order to adopt another child, my older brother was taken to a child psychologist and interviewed. I’ve copied what the psychologist wrote about him.

Psychologist's Evaluation

Psychologist’s Evaluation

And she was dead on about my brother. From an early age, he showed incredible mechanical genius. He was a mad inventor even as a little kid. My brother made rocket fuel in the basement. He created a mechanical witch that popped out of the clothes hamper in the bathroom to scare me when I got up in the middle of the night to pee. And on and on. Mom said that whenever she visited his elementary school unannounced, he was always standing out in the hall being punished for one thing or another. Honestly, he was just bored. A.A. Hyde Elementary School didn’t appreciate his aptitude and also didn’t know how to handle him with the exception of making him stand in the hall.

In 1951, my parents were given the opportunity to adopt a baby girl (me). One month after my birth, they drove to Kansas City to pick me up. As you can see, I was skinny, very red and hairy. My eyes appeared oversized, much too big for my face.

Me at One Month.  Taken when Mom & Dad picked me up in Kansas City

Me at One Month. Taken when Mom & Dad picked me up in Kansas City

My big brother and me.

My big brother and me.


Four Month's Old

Four Month’s Old

The state of Missouri has finally changed their laws on Sealed Adoption Records. If both biological parents are dead (and you can prove it), you can petition the Court to receive a copy of your adoption file. (I have written more on this subject in earlier posts)

I finally received a very thick manila envelope of paperwork from the Circuit Court of Jackson County. Inside were pychological evaluations of my parents, letters of reference, copies of receipts, etc.

Of course, I have read through this file several times. I thought I had thoroughly read everything until yesterday when something new caught my eye!
pretty

Luckily for me, Mom didn’t see me through other people’s eyes. If she had known what the home visitor had written, that I was not pretty and not precocious, she would have driven to Kansas City and kicked her in the butt! Once they got us, Mom and Dad were the most loyal parents ever.

Below is copied from a letter that Mom wrote to the social worker in Kansas City. (a copy of her letter was in my big manila evelope)

Her hair is very dark for a tiny baby and her head is beautifully shaped. I have seen pretty babies, but none as pretty as Jan. Now, if we can just teach her all the things that must go with her being so beautiful.

I wish our pictures truly could show you how sweet our baby is, but some day we will be in Kansas City and we will bring her to see you.

Thanks Mom and Dad! R.I.P.

Scandal at The Willows Maternity Sanitarium when Singer Borrows Baby to Defraud ex-Hubby

I was born and adopted from The Willows Maternity Sanitarium in Kansas City, Missouri. During its heyday, the Willows advertised “Superior Babies for Adoption”. After searching for newspaper articles that made reference to The Willows, I came across a scandal that involved The Willows in 1924. (If you would like more background information on The Willows, please see my earlier posts)

The Willows Maternity Sanitarium, Kansas City, Missouri

The Willows Maternity Sanitarium, Kansas City, Missouri

Miss Lydia Locke appeared at the Willows Maternity Hospital in 1924 calling herself Mrs. Ira Johnson of Hannibal, Missouri. She had references in place and the Willows was satisfied enough with her story that she left with a newborn baby boy. Miss Locke allegedly “borrowed” that baby in order to receive an additional sum from her wealthy ex-husband, Arthur Hudson Marks. In the divorce decree she received $100,000 but was assured an additional $300,000 in case a child was born to her. (the amounts varied depending on the newspaper) She obtained a birth certificate from the family physician naming the baby boy “Arthur Hudson Marks, Jr.”

The Marks were divorced in September of 1923. Apparently Miss Locke was mathematically challenged or unaware of the average gestational period for humans, but in October of 1924 she appeared in New York with the baby. Miss Locke contacted her ex-husband and asked him to acknowledge the baby as his own.

Mr. Marks, not so biologically or mathematically challenged as Miss Locke, employed private detectives to learn how she obtained the baby. The poor little baby, now six weeks old, was ordered returned to the Willows Maternity Sanitarium. The articles don’t say what became of the infant. In any event, he was better off without the looney Miss Locke.

locke-nov8-1925-color
bride

palm off baby

Date:  Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1924  Paper:  Boston Herald (Boston, MA)

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1924 Paper: Boston Herald (Boston, MA)

Before adoption became a compassionate process of placing children in healthy homes, it was more like the dog pound. Below is a clipping from 1906 for “The Willows” that reads like a “free to a good home” pet adoption ad.
free to a good home

The Story of Jack Bernstein, WWII Prisoner of War, continued. . . .

I was searching for newspaper articles this afternoon (my most favorite hobby) when I saw that genealogybank.com had finally added the archives from The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri. I did a quick search for “Joseph J. Bernstein”, aka “Jack”, and several articles about his capture and release from the Japanese prisoner of war camp came up.

Without further ado, I will add them to tell the story of Jack. If you need any more background, please refer back to the post that I published on Nov. 11, 2012 about Jack Bernstein, in honor of Veteran’s Day.

Date: Jan 6, 1943 Newspaper: Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO

Date: Jan 6, 1943 Newspaper: Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO

sea gives up

Jack Comes Home, Photo with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abe Bernstein

Jack Comes Home, Photo with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abe Bernstein

freed

Date: Nov. 4, 1945  Newspaper:  Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO

Date: Nov. 4, 1945 Newspaper: Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO

Jack and Florence

Jack and Florence

And Jack and Florence marry. Love conquers all.

Florence & Jack's engagement

Jack on his Honeymoon

Jack on his Honeymoon

What Ever Happened to Harry, Part II.

Back in January, I wrote about Harry Morris & his disappearance.  You can see the earlier post published on January 13, 2013.  His grandson Joe & I have spent many hours searching online for Harry & have never found anything.  He simply disappeared from Kansas City — leaving his wife, Flora (Blume Kremer) Morris, with six children to care for.  Because a person can’t completely vanish in today’s world, I have had a hard time accepting that he just walked out.  I understand divorce and separation, but I can’t imagine never coming back to see your children. Thanks to Flora’s other recent immigrant family members from Russia and Lithuania, she somehow managed to keep her family together. And she eventually remarried and lived to be 81 years old, living from 1890 to 1971. Flora (Blume Kremer) was a resourceful and resilient woman.
Flora Kramer

Now with better communication, computers, DNA tests, etc., it is a rare occurrence that a man (or woman) can go to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes & never return.  Harry’s grandson, Joe, has had his DNA tested on familytreedna.com and maybe some day, someone will be a good DNA match and the pieces can be put together.

My interest in Harry Morris started when I began trying to help my daughter’s Russian & Eastern European side of her family create a family tree.  Over the last weeks, I have read many articles about the difficulties that these new immigrants had in adjusting to their lives in America.  I bought a used book titled “Mid-America’s Promise: A Profile of Kansas City Jewry” that was edited by Joseph D. Schultz & published in 1982.

Mid-America's promise
I bought this book hoping that it might contain some references to my daughter’s family members. Unfortunately, there aren’t any with the one exception of a photo of Robert “Bob” Bernstein who invented the McDonald’s Happy Meal. But, from this wonderful book I have learned how these Russian & Eastern European immigrants, at the turn of the 20th Century, ended up in Kansas City, MO.

I will try to keep this short, but a brilliant man named Jacob Billikopf was instrumental in the Kansas City immigration story. He was a recent immigrant from Lithuania who worked with other Jewish leaders to try and remedy the situation in New York. The wave of immigrants had begun to overwhelm New York’s resources and the city leader’s were quickly becoming desperate. The book explains how Jacob created the “Billikopf Route”. Many representatives of American Jewish charities traveled to Hamburg & Bremerhaven to try and convince the immigrants to land and move further west from NYC. Jacob Billikopf basically created the Galveston, TX route in order to help the immigrants find a “more assured future”. He managed Kansas City’s Jewish social services and found jobs and housing for the people willing to travel further west.

That said, it doesn’t explain what happened to Harry Morris. While many Eastern European immigrants were able to quickly assimilate, some were not. The ones who landed in NYC could hold onto their old ways, Yiddish language, and customs longer than the immigrants who moved further west. There was more pressure on those who took the “Billikopf Route” and some felt very isolated in their new country. There were also social and cultural rifts between the older German Jewish population and the new poorer Eastern European immigrants.

Desertion, the poor man’s “divorce”, happened so often among the Eastern Europeans that a National Desertion Bureau was formed to help locate the wayward Jewish husbands and fathers. Jacob Billikopf became very disturbed by the problems created by desertion and death. He and Judge Edward Porterfield wrote and passed a bill in 1911 that established a “Mothers’ Assistance Fund” in Kansas City. This bill was a forerunner to the Aid to Dependent Children programs across the country.

The problems caused by desertion didn’t occur only in Kansas City. The situation was so bad that the Jewish Daily Forward, the largest-circulation Yiddish daily in the world, began running the “Gallery of Missing Men,” a page full of mug shots of these husbands. It was published to shame them into returning to their families. Or maybe to warn other women about these scoundrels.
gallery of missing men

A Kansas City Detective Story, “What Ever Happened to Harry?”

Harry Morris came to the United Stated from Russia. He was handsome and ended up in Kansas City, Missouri.

Harry Morris

Harry Morris

He married Flora Kramer (Kremer), daughter of Aron Kremer & Tema Malka Rykles from Kejdany,Kovno,Russia, Lithuania. After their marriage in 1909 — they had six living children Sam, Milton, Joseph, Ida, Max & Isador.

Flora Kremer Morris

Flora Kremer Morris

Census

Census

The Morris Children

The Morris Children

Sometime after the 1920 United States Federal Census, Harry Morris disappeared. Harry left Flora with six children & no one has ever been able to find out what happend to him. His guardian, Samuel Tranin, had gotten into trouble with the legal system, but there is no evidence that that Harry was a part of his trouble.

If anyone could offer any hints on how to find information on an almost 100 year old cold case, please let us all know. Even this long ago, it is interesting that someone could completely disappear.

Trying to Help Others with their Family Trees & even though this is sad, Happy Hanukkah

I have tried to help other friends and family search for their relatives.  The hardest search has been trying to find a family tree for my daughter’s grandmother.  Her family came from Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century. They came to the United States in order to find a better life and to escape the horrible treatment of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Jacob and Mamie Gershonowitz Kramer

Jacob and Mamie Gershonowitz Kramer

I have searched and searched, but I can’t find Mamie Gershonowitz’s entrance into the United States through Ellis Island, New York. We know that she was born (approximately) in May of 1888 in Vilnius, Vilnius, Lithuania and died on 12 August 1931 in Kansas City, Missouri. In the 1920 Federal Census, it states that she arrived in the United States in 1906. Please note that a lot of the earlier census reports had typos.

1920 United States Federal Census about Mayne Kermer
Name: Mayne Kermer
Age: 33
Birth Year: abt 1887
Birthplace: Poland
Home in 1920: Kansas City Ward 11, Jackson, Missouri
Race: White
Gender: Female
Immigration Year: 1906
Relation to Head of House: Wife
Marital Status: Married
Spouse’s Name: Jake Kermer
Father’s Birthplace: Poland
Mother’s Birthplace: Poland
Able to Read: No
[Yes]
Able to Write: No
[Yes]
Neighbors: View others on page
Household Members:
Name Age
Jake Kermer 37
Mayne Kermer 33
Samuel Kermer 9
[9 8/12]
Annie Kermer 7
David Kermer 3

There is a great site to search for Jewish ancestry records — http://www.jewishgen.org — and this site adds new records daily. Even if you don’t have any Jewish relatives, please look at this site. There is so much history here. There are many volunteers working to translate the records.

When searching for Jewish relatives, there are many road blocks. First, language and translation. Second, the Hebrew calendar and searching for dates. Third, name changes. And finally, World War I and World War II changed the borders of countries and their names changed also.

I have found more information about my daughter’s great grandfather, Jake Kramer. Jake was born in Lithuania. But some of his records say he was born in the Russian Empire on 15 Nov. 1887 in Kiev, Ukraine (Russia). I am not sure what is correct as Eastern Europe was in turmoil. Jake died in Kansas City, MO on 25 Feb. 1965.

His father, Aron Kramer, was born about 1862 in Yanow, Kowno, Russia and died 19 April 1942 in Droga Lubienska, Janowska. Both Aron Kramer and his wife Tema Malka Kramer died during the Holocaust.

Aron Kramer

Aron Kramer

Name: Aron Krämer
Death Date: 29 Apr 1942
Death Place: Droga LubienskaJanowska
Burial Date: 2 May 1942
Burial Plot: A II
Burial Place: Lviv, Lwow, Ukraine
Comments: Lviv Cemetery Records – 1942
Cemetery Burials: 7772
Cemetery Comments: The city of Lviv, Ukraine was formerly Lvov, USSR; Lwow, Poland; and Lemberg, Austrian Empire. Included in this cemetery data are files from 1941 and 1942, written in both the Roman and Cyrillic alphabets. The data for this cemetery is contain

His wife, Tema Malka Kramer was born about 1862 in Lithuania and died about 1941.

Tema Malka Kramer

Tema Malka Kramer

Holocaust: Krakow (Poland) Transport Lists, 1940 about Małka Kremer
Name: Małka Kremer
Birth Date: 1861
Date Transported: 17 Mar 1941
Departure Location: Lublin
Marital Status: Married
Address: Krasińskiego 5
Transport Number: 61
Transportee Number: 88

Joseph J. Bernstein, Another Tough World War II Veteran. He lived May 5, 1923 – May 29, 2008

Joseph (Jack) Bernstein was my daughter’s grandfather & my father-in-law. Jack was tough. He smoked Marlboro Reds when I first met him, had rough hands and an iron handshake.   Jack was probably always tough, but especially since he survived being captured at sea by the Germans and then being turned over to a Japanese war camp to spend the rest of WWII.  This is for Jack, R.I.P. and we miss you.

His son wrote

Thursday, Jack was declared dead . . .for the second time. He was 85. Sixty-five years ago, another article appeared in the Kansas City Star; the headline read, “And a Boy Dies At Sea.” It told the story of a young Kansas Citian in greasy overalls working on a merchant marine tanker — the boy and the tanker lost at sea when an enemy torpedo struck. Insurance benefits were paid and he was given up for dead, by all but his family. “We were deeply grieved to hear of the death of your son,” the letter to his mother read. “He set an example in heroism and patriotism for all of us.”

The text below is copied from http://www.usmm.org/calcutta.html


It wasn’t until 1943 that Washington learned that 27 crew members of the Calcutta were alive and prisoners of war at Camp Fukuoka in Japan.

He often remarked that he was living on borrowed time. At 11:35pm on May 29, 2008, he opened his eyes for the last time and closed them. All who knew him will miss him dearly.

Willliam L. Engle, 1919-1966

Both of my biological parents are dead. I wish I had met one of them to hear the story of how they met, why Grace Britt took the train to Kansas City to give birth to me and much more. The one thing that I know they had in common was drinking. Unfortunately, it was also the cause of both of their deaths.

My bio. father, Bill Engle, was born on April 1, 1919 in Montana and died on December 27, 1966 in Bay Head, NJ. I’ve talked to my 1/2 brother and 1/2 sister on the Engle side and, although they didn’t know that I existed, they weren’t terribly surprised. Their (& my) father was an avid horseman and polo player. He could even ride a horse standing on its’ back. Bill was a pilot, was in the Masonic Lodge and a character. His son volunteered to have his autosomal DNA tested. I had already had my DNA tested at http://www.familytreedna.com and the test proved our 1/2 sibling relationship.

When Grace met Bill, he was married and had a family. Whether she knew about his family or learned about it later, I’ll never know. Bill’s wife has also passed away. If she was alive, I’d never write this in a post. But it certainly explains Grace’s going to Kansas City on the train. Men aren’t always honest and, as the saying goes, “all is fair in love and war”.

Bill Engle was a military man and served in both WWII and the Korean War. During Korea, he was in the armored tank division and was hit by a tank tread. After coming back to New Jersey, he started a successful real estate agency called “Town & Country”.

I wish I knew more about him as he was a character. It was his wish to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

William L. Engle’s Obituary

Below is a photo of Bill Engle taken from a Graceland College yearbook.

Kansas City was the Adoption Hub of America

copied from the Kansas City Public Library  http://www.kclibrary.org/kchistory/adoption

Adoptions

Two factors made Kansas City the “baby hub” of the United States: the railroads and only one child placement agency, the adoption department of the Juvenile Court.

Parents from all over the United States used to pack their pregnant, unwed daughters onto the train and send them to Kansas City where taxis waited at the station to transport them to one of several maternity homes, including The Willows, Fairmount, St. Vincent’s, Florence Crittenton, Kansas City Cradle, and others. In 1929, “292 young women from 25 states slipped into Kansas City that year to give birth at The Willows, the city’s largest maternity home.” And scores more came to the others.

Reporter Norma Lee Browning wrote in the Chicago Sunday Tribune Grafic Magazine on July 2, 1950, “There is one city, however, that has solved its own ‘black market’ baby problems by devising a simplified court adoption system that has gained a nation-wide reputation for its high standards, fine work, and success in the child placement field. That is Kansas City, Mo. The adoption court there places about 1,000 babies a year, thus making it one of the largest and possibly ‘the’ largest child placement agency in AMERICA.”

When attitudes began changing in the 1960s and ‘70s, most of these homes closed.

Because so many children were adopted in Kansas City during the first half of the twentieth century, the Missouri Valley Special Collections department receives numerous requests for information about the maternity homes and also about their records. We have information about the homes, but we do not have any records.

The following excerpts are from a booklet titled “By-Paths and Cross-Roads; Accidents of Fair Travelers on the Highway of Life”, published by The Willows Maternity Sanitarium, primarily for physicians, copyright 1918 by E. P. Haworth.

The Willows Maternity Sanitarium is an institution devoted exclusively to the care and seclusion of unfortunate young women, offering them congenial, homelike surroundings before confinement and exceptional medical and hospital care during delivery and convalescence. In most cases arrangements are also made for the finding of a home for the patient’s baby for adoption.

The institution will not knowingly accept a young woman of the immoral or degenerate type, its service being reserved for worthy and deserving young women who have made a misstep and who face social and moral ruin. The Willows’ method is the safe, Christian and ethical solution to one of the most difficult problems of the medical community.

Early entrance during gestation is important for preparing the patient for accoutrement through systematic hygienic methods and massage. A special system of abdominal and perineal massage has been originated for preventing striae gravidarum and as an aid to labor. The abdominal markings of a single girl, caused by carrying a child, are telltale signs that might be discovered at any time and cause her misfortune to become known. This combination of massages, including the skin, perineal and vaginal massage, has been successful in sending numbers of girls, who have taken them, away from The Willows without marks or signs to show of their experience.

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