The 1977 discovery of great grandmother Anna Bernstein Korn’s death certificate stating her Cause of Death as “Melancholia” was a mystery until revelations unfolded in recent years. But back then, my first thought was, ‘How does someone die of sadness?’ I have tried not to speculate about what happened to her. Let me know your thoughts.
Marcus Korn was the last of nine children born to great grandparents Anna Bernstein Korn and Rabbi Jacob Korn. It appears that the birth of Marcus on October 1, 1891 set off a tragic chain of events for the family. Marcus was placed in the Jewish Widow’s and Orphan’s Children’s Home (JCH) soon after his birth. The JCH ledger for Marcus states that he was received there from Touro Infirmary where he was born. Five of his seven brothers and sisters are each recorded in their individual ledger pages to have entered the JCH on November 8, 1891 from Woodville, Mississippi.
Sometime after November 8, 1891, their mother, our great grandmother, Anna Bernstein Korn, entered The Insane Asylum of the State of Louisiana and remained there until her death in 1898.
Anna was the daughter of Marcus Bernstein, the Chief Rabbi of Breslau Germany. She married her third cousin, Jacob Korn, a brilliant young multi-language rabbi and cantor. Jacob was the eldest son of Isaac and Esther Korn who had immigrated to London to escape the persecution of the Jews of Poland.
Anna and Jacob began their life together in Neustrelitz Germany where their family began with the birth of Rose (1877), then Montague (1878), followed by Hyman (1880) and Helene who died in infancy. Helene was possibly Hyman’s twin. My grandmother Judith (1885) was born in Canterbury, England after the family had immigrated there, possibly choosing the London South Side because Jacob’s parents were there. Abraham (1886) was born in London.
The family next located to Brooklyn, New York and lived for about a year on Wyckoff Avenue, a street which still exists today.
So, from the children’s birth years we can calculate that our Korn family crossed the ocean about 1887. I have not yet found any record of their passage.
Miriam (1888) was born in Athens, Georgia. And Esther (1890) was born in Atlanta.
Anna Bernstein Korn had given birth to her first child at age 27 and her ninth child at age 41. She had left her Bernstein family in Neustrelitz after giving birth to four children in four years. In England and then in the United States, she had given birth to five more children in six years.
Marcus, the ninth and last of Anna Korn’s children was born in Touro Infirmary October 1, 1891. The family, including his seven surviving brothers and sisters were living in Woodville, Mississippi where Jacob was rabbi for the large and prosperous Jewish population. After the apparently unsuccessful one year pulpits in Athens and Atlanta, it appears from the volume of his hand-written Woodville sermons that Jacob had found some success there.
But sadly, the Family’s happiness was about to end.
I will try to tell you the facts, dear cousins, and limit the inevitable speculation that always enters my thoughts.
After Marcus’ birth in Touro Infirmary on October 1, 1891, Anna’s mental health must have seriously declined. Perhaps she entered a totally new, unexpected depressive state*. Or, perhaps she always had a depressive personality and her marriage to Jacob, and the following fourteen years of childbirth and immigration had taken its toll. In any case, she entered (was sent to) The Insane Asylum of the State of Louisiana in Jackson, Louisiana. She lived there until her death in 1898.
Apparently, Jacob returned to Woodville, to his children.
I have not learned if her husband or her children ever saw her again.
Back in Woodville, without Anna, Jacob would have had to care for six children ranging in age from one year old Esther to thirteen year old Rose.
Seventeen days before his children were admitted to the JCH, on October 25, 1891, Jacob wrote to Fred Marks, the Admittance Chairman, “Permit me, pray, to plainly state the facts which induce me to apply for my children’s admittance in your noble institute.” He practiced this opening sentence several times on the back of sermons.
Where was Anna located? Could she have still been in Touro Infirmary? Or, could Anna have been temporarily housed at the JCH with her new baby, Marcus? Jacob’s statement that “…next Sunday. If not too late I will of course come to see my wife.” leaves the impression that she was not at the JCH. From Jacob’s intention to visit her, I assume she was some place in New Orleans, most likely remaining at Touro Infirmary, most likely being treated for her mental health problems.
But again, sadly, she entered (was sent to) The Insane Asylum of the State of Louisiana in Jackson, Louisiana where she lived until her death in 1898.
One week later, on November 8, 1891, Jacob brought six of his and Anna’s children, except possibly Marcus, for admission and the beginning of years of their youth to the Jewish Children’s Home. On each child’s ledger page, in the “Remarks” area is written, “Both parents living, mother in the Insane Asylum of Jackson, La.”
Marcus was probably either with his mother or being cared for by a nurse.
Rose and Montague were too old to be admitted.
Jacob again returned to Woodville. On April 14, 1892 he wrote an announcement, in his own handwriting, for someone else to read to the Woodville congregation, “Dr. Korn, the Rabbi, will speak on “Life & Light”,…“The Rabbis’ Exposition on Christianity & Christians”.
With his children admitted and living in the JCH, his wife suffering in a state of debilitating mental health, Jacob was back in Woodville delivering sermons.
The Search for Anna
Many years ago, I began the search for Anna’s burial site. My mother had kept an old black and white photo of Anna’s gravestone…but the location of the grave was not noted.
I had phoned the “Asylum” which today is The Jackson Campus of the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health Care System. I was told that all records before 1900 had been lost in a fire. Some patients who died there were buried on the campus grounds, and a long-time employee there was kind to walk through all the gravestones on the campus and called me to report that Anna was not there. However, that knowledgeable lady told me that she had seen the “Melancholia” cause on previous death certificates, and Anna’s probably referred to nineteenth century “Baby Blues”, the then common name for today’s Post-Partum Depression.
It seemed so very logical that Anna would have been buried in the Woodville Hebrew Cemetery. Jacob had been the rabbi there for the large Jewish population and had returned there after placing his children in the home.
Woodville was called “Little Jerusalem.” Sephardic Jewish businessmen came for economic opportunities and made significant contributions to the town’s environment and culture. Most of them later moved away. Woodville’s synagogue burned in the 1930s, but its Jewish cemetery is maintained by the town.
Also, Woodville, Mississippi is a short travel distance from Jackson, Louisiana. Being an orthodox rabbi, Jacob would have wanted to follow the Jewish law of burial within 24 hours without embalming.
Pilgrimage to Woodville (2010)
Cynthia and I traveled to Woodville, confident that we would discover Anna’s resting place. We booked a quaint B&B in St. Francisville and headed for Woodville after breakfast the next morning. I had the old black and white photo with me, and we walked the cemetery. Anna’s gravestone just wasn’t there…a major disappointment. I had convinced myself that she was there, and now had to face starting the search over again.
Ancestry research can be very frustrating. Just when you think you are on the brink of a major discovery….disappointment. So, one afternoon I was telling the Korn/Woodville story to our temple administrator, and he told me that there were hundreds of temples and congregation named “Beth Israel”.
In fact, there is a very large Congregation Beth Israel in Jackson, Mississippi.
I immediately rejected the possibility that Anna could be there because it was over 500 miles from Jackson, Louisiana. But my friend suggested that I had nothing to lose by calling the Mississippi synagogue, and wrote down the toll-free number for me. I thought it was a waste of time, but called the temple and spoke to a secretary, told her my story, and gave her Anna’s name. She asked me to wait for a few minutes. And then returned to tell me that indeed….
Anna is there, in their Marshall Street cemetery.
Pilgrimage to Jackson, Mississippi (2018)
See Chapter 6