Sunday, April 10, 2011

Murder on the Orient Express

Okay, so it wasn't really the Murder on the Orient Express but it was a death and it was on a train.

As I mentioned earlier, when I first started on this journey I used Gunzendorfer as my first search.  I joined and away I went, looking at those little green leafs on each one of my Gunzendorfer family.  Why was there no death record for Bertha in California?  I knew she was alive in 1944 when Abraham died yet I couldn't find a California death record for her in later years.  Since I was new to ancestry, I hadn't really figured things out yet and it never occurred to me that she might not have died in California.  Lo and behold, there she was listed in the Oregon death records!  Klamath Falls, Oregon to be exact.  What was up with that?

After some internet searching, I found the Random Acts of Genalogical Kindness (RAOGK) organization and contacted someone in Klamath Falls to ask for some help.  A few days later the kind woman gave me my answer - Bertha had, in fact, died in Oregon on August 1, 1950 and she forwarded a copy of the obituary from the Herald and News.  While the obituary didn't have a lot of information, it did tell me that the remains were forwarded via Southern Pacific to Halstead and Company in San Francisco for burial at a later date.  What was she doing in Klamath Falls, Oregon?

I searched some more and stumbled across Halstead's mortuary records from that time frame - there she was!  Once again I read that she died in Klamath Falls, Oregon but there were no clues as to the cause of death or why she was in Klamath Falls.  The records showed that Bertha's residence was the Maryland Hotel in San Francisco.  She lived in a hotel?

I also learned that the grand total to prepare Bertha for interment was $220.98!  That was broken down as:
  • Preservation and preparation of remains and professional services - $75
  • Casket coach and limousine  - $36
  • Flower car - $15
  • Cremation - $60
  • Examiner, Newspaper, Call to out of town papers - $32.98
  • County taxes - $2
There were so many familiar things on this record.  The limo was used to pick up my grandparents at the Clift Hotel, which I remember fondly as their favorite hotel in San Francisco.  The bill was sent to my great uncle, Wilton Gunzendorfer.  And interment would take place at Hills of Eternity in San Francisco where I'd already found Bertha and Abe.  But what was she doing in Klamath Falls?

The next time I talked to my mom on the phone, I told her about my findings and about my curiosity as to what Bertha was doing in Klamath Falls.  "That's easy" she said.  WHAT?  You know?  In retrospect it was stupid of me not to ask her in the first place because Bertha died about a month before my parents were married so, of course, she would have known what happened.  Here's the story.....

Bertha was living at the Maryland Hotel in San Francisco after Abe died.  She and my grandparents (Bertha's daughter, Loraine, and her husband, Sig Levy) set out by train from San Francisco headed toward Victoria, Canada for vacation.  The first night on the train, Bertha died of an apparent heart attack.  The train conductor wanted to stop the train in the middle of nowhere and let my grandparents out with the body.  Thankfully, my grandfather convinced them to get them to the next town which was, in fact, Klamath Falls.  Even though all the records show that Bertha died in Klamath Falls, she may have actually died in California.  After a brief stay in Klamath Falls, Loraine and Sig got Bertha's body back on a train and headed south to San Francisco for interment at Hills of Eternity.

My mother remembers visiting with Birdie a few days before their vacation and Birdie was insistent that my mother take some little dessert forks she had as a wedding gift.  Mom suggested that she wait and get the forks after they returned and when they were all together for her wedding.  After Birdie's death she was given the forks and, I believe, she still has them today.  But she's convinced that Birdie had a premonition that they would never be together again and that she wanted to ensure my parents had the forks that were, obviously, so special to her.

This story has taught me to always ask questions and then when you think you can't ask anymore, ask again.  You never know when the question you ask will jog a new memory.

Bertha is interred with Abe in Hills of Eternity Cemetery.    Bertha's Memorial


  1. I have chosen you for the "One Lovely Blog Award!" You can pick up your award by visiting my blog "The Sum of All My Research" at for your badge and acceptance rules and Keep up the great Blogging!

  2. County taxes $2.... I bet that's gone way up. :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  3. How awful that must have been, for her and the people with her. Dying on a train...that's not good.