Friday, November 6, 2015

My Great-Grandmother's Undertaker, Harry Brooks

Former Undertaking Business
2726 E. Carson Street, Pittsburgh
(Image from Google Maps)
When I first started researching my family, one ancestor who fascinated me was my great-grandmother Albertina. She had died in her 30s of influenza during 1918 and left behind three young children. There was also mystery: the state health department didn't have a record of her death certificate; she couldn't be found in any cemeteries, and a lifelong resident of the South Side area of Pittsburgh told me about rumors of bodies being buried in mass graves during the epidemic.

When I finally received Albertina's death certificate (it had been indexed under the wrong letter), I studied it for every possible detail about her life. And I was relieved to see the name and address of an undertaker and the cemetery where she had been buried. He was "H. Brooks" located at "2726 Carson." I became curious to know more about him and, since I didn't know his first name, I searched for his address in Google Books. I found the following excerpt in the 1922 book, History of Pittsburgh and Environs:
   "HARRY BROOKS--The undertaking business now conducted by Harry Brooks at No. 2726 Carson street is one of the oldest in Pittsburgh, South Side. It was established by John Bittner, in 1877, and with the exception of the improvements Mr. Brooks has made, and the change from horses to motors, is about the same as Mr. Bittner left it. Mr. Bittner conducted a livery barn in connection with his undertaking business, and that has been changed to a garage. Another change is in the amount of business done, that having largely increased. Harry Brooks was born in Pittsburgh, on Christmas Day, 1868, son of Harry and Helen (Vose) Brooks, his father deceased since 1894, his mother yet living at the age of seventy-one. Harry (1) Brooks came from England when a boy of thirteen, and was one of the old time glass blowers of Pittsburgh, working in several of the old historic plants. Harry (2) Brooks attended public schools, and when old enough learned glass blowing, but about the year 1882 became an employee of John Bittner, the undertaker and after becoming a proficient assistant became Mr. Bittner's business manager, continuing with him in that capacity for twenty-five years. He then succeeded Mr. Bittner in business and still continues in the same location. He is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, serving the last named as trustee. In politics he is a Republican.
   Mr. Brooks married, Dec. 31, 1896, Rose Bittner, and they have three living children: Harry, born 1906; Mildred, born 1908; William, born 1912. Two children, John and Marion, died in childhood, John aged five years, Marion three years. Mr. Brooks has three sisters living; Mrs. Emma Barton, of Toledo, Ohio; Estella, of Pioneer, Ohio; Mrs. Jeannette Swearer, of New York City."
I know that learning about Harry Brooks does nothing to advance my family research, but I still think it's interesting to know more about a man who would have come in contact with many Pittsburghers during his long career. And he would have spoken with my great-grandfather during a very difficult time.

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