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TB or Not TB
11/23/2009
It’s not always clear whether a record names your relative. Sanitarium records may hold the answers this genealogist needs.
“TB or not TB, that is congestion,” says Woody Allen in the 1972 film Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask. “Consumption be done about it? Of cough, of cough. But it takes a lung, lung time.”
 
It’s taken Tricia Foster a “lung time” to track down her sister-in-law’s grandfather Joseph (also Josef) Krulik (also found as Krolik and Krulick), whom she believes suffered from tuberculosis. Also known as consumption or TB, the disease was a leading killer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some sufferers convalesced and died at home, but others went to sanitariums in hope of a cure. In the latter cases, the burning question for Foster and other genealogists is “Where are the records?”
 
Foster found a Joseph Krulik in 1920 US census records of the Berks County, Pa., State Tuberculosis Sanitarium. So far, she’s learned Joseph was born about 1870 in Poland. His daughter, Anna, was born in 1906 in Warsaw, Poland. Joseph came to America about 1907. Anna and her mother, Mary Roslin, followed in 1910. In 1915, Joseph lived in Newark, NJ, according to the state census. Now Foster’s trying to find sanitarium records to see if the Joseph Krulik in 1920 is the “right” guy. Let’s help her see if this ancestral connection is meant TB.
 
Comparing notes
Before Foster begins the hunt for the sanitarium’s records, she should first compare the information in the 1920 census to the records she’s already gathered. It’s surprising how many people have the same name, which can easily lead you to research the wrong person.
 
In the 1920 Pennsylvania census, Joseph is a 53-year-old, widowed tailor, who was born in Austria and speaks German, and whose parents were born in Austria and spoke German. The not-quite-matching data introduce uncertainty as to whether this is the right Joseph. The columns for date of arrival and naturalization aren’t helpful: The Un (for “unknown”), along with the alphabetical listings, suggests that the census information was compiled from hospital records, not by questioning patients.
 
When comparing this Joseph to the Joseph listed five years earlier in the 1915 New Jersey state census, Foster should look at details such as nationality and occupation. Entirely different occupations in the two records is an indication they show different men. 
 
Following through
To see whether you’re on the right ancestral track, sometimes you have to play out a hypothesis and keep researching the person in question. Foster can seek a death record showing when Mary died, which should be before Joseph’s appearance as a widower in the census. Records on Anna also could point to the right Joseph in 1920. And Foster should search for a death certificate for a Joseph Krulik in Pennsylvania. Although some people did recover from tuberculosis, many didn’t. Berks County has an online death database. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has some microfilmed death records for the county; Foster can rent the film through a local Family History Center. She also could try the county clerk or state vital-records office.
 
If it’s still questionable whether the 1920 Pennsylvania and 1915 New Jersey Josephs are the same man, the institution’s records could give Foster enough identifying information. First, she’ll need the actual name of the sanitarium. Although the 1920 census listed merely “State Sanitorium for Tuberculosis,” Google searching revealed it was officially the Pennsylvania State Sanatorium for Tuberculosis No. 3, Hamburg. It was known as the Hamburg Tuberculosis Sanatorium for a time.
 
The 10th Annual Report of the Commissioner of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1915 lists employees and other information about the Hamburg institution. I compared the names of nurses with those in the 1920 census to confirm the name of the sanatarium. Another helpful source is The Campaign of Tuberculosis in the United States, in Google Books, which has a directory of tuberculosis sanitariums as of its publication in 1908.
 
Staying patient
Armed with the institution’s name, Foster can check next with the Pennsylvania Department of Health—staff should know where any records are archived. Another possibility is the Berks County Historical Society. Typically, health-related records are restricted, even if the person you’re searching for is deceased. Records may be released only to next of kin.
 
Unfortunately, institutional records can end up anywhere. When I wrote to the Adirondack Genealogical-Historical Society about records from the Adirondack Cottage Sanatorium at Saranac Lake, NY, the society’s president responded, “The doctor admittance records were stored in the attic of the Saranac Lake Airport and about five years ago [1993], someone decided to clean house ... One of our members happened to be at the garbage dump when this was being done and managed to rescue about half of the records—we think.”
 
Passing it on
Even if Foster is lucky enough to find the records, admittance books might be all that survived. These may offer little information besides what’s in the 1920 census. But if she learns the Joseph Krulik with tuberculosis isn’t the right guy, she shouldn’t be discouraged. Sometimes negative results are actually a positive development. She’ll have ruled out this man and can move to the next theory.
 
We’ve all ventured down a path that didn’t end up where we thought it would, and we all have folders of “Former Ancestors.” Why let those stray souls stay buried in our files? If the 1920 Pennsylvania Joseph isn’t her kin, Foster should consider posting online what she’s found (with source citations, of course) to help another genealogist—after all, Joseph Krulik is someone’s relative.
 
Research Plan
1. Compare information from records to assess whether they name the same Joseph Krulik.
2. Look for records on Krulik’s family members to learn more about him.
3. Search for sanitarium records at the state and county levels. 
4. Publicize details about “former ancestors” for other genealogists.
 
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine
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