Why was Minnie listed as a widow in the 1940 Census?

 Minnie Leber Wosnitzer

Minnie Leber Wosnitzer

Minnie was the oldest child of Taube Binder Leber.  However, Max, Minnie’s father, had 6 older children from his first marriage. There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding Minnie’s life.

Minnie was born about 1889 in Tarnow, Galicia.  In 1890, her mother brought her, her younger sister, Rose, and 3 of Minnie’s half-siblings to the US.  They sailed from Hamburg in the steerage section of the ship.

1890 Ship Minifest for Taube

In 1903, she married Irving Wosnitzer in New York, but then they moved to Newark, NJ, where Irving worked for his uncle in the Hudson Hat Company. On the marriage license, neither Isie’s nor Minnie’s mother’s name is correct. Isie’s mother is listed as Dora when her name was Serl, and Minnie’s mother was listed as Annah when it was really Taube.

Isie and Minnie Marriage Record

Minnie and Isie lived in the 3rd Ward in Newark in the same neighborhood as Irving’s Wosnitzer cousins and uncle.

Minnie Leber 1905 Census
Minnie Leber 1925 Census

Minnie’s father, Max, died in 1916.  Where was Minnie living then?

For 15 years Irving and Minnie were childless, but in 1917, they adopted a baby girl. By 1920, they were living in the Bronx, but did they move there before, or after, they adopted their daughter? They named their daughter Mae, so why on the 1920 census is she listed as Elsie?

Minnie Leber 1920 Census

Minnie and Irving lived near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. They often walked over there to enjoy the wide, bustling street and surrounding parks.

                                 Minnie and May

In 1925, Minnie moved into what became known as “The House of the 4 Sisters” at 2054 78th Street in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, NY.

Irving was a womanizer and at some point, Minnie threw him out.  It appears that Irving had 3 other wives after Minnie.  Did she throw him out before or after the 1925 census?  Look how bizarre the names and country are on this census.  There is a divorce record for an Irving Wosnitzer from a Jane Diamond in 1925.  Is that Minne’s Irving? I think Minnie did not want the census taker to know she was alone.  Divorce was not common and was frowned upon in the 1920s.

Minnie Leber 1925 Census

On April 25, 1938, Minnie’s mother, Taube, died in Minnie’s apartment.  Minnie had been caring for her sick mother.  Minnie and her sisters got hysterical when  the coffin was carried out and down the stairs.

Minnie Leber at her mother's grave

             Minnie at her mother’s grave

Note that in the 1940 census, she lists herself as a widow.  This was also a common practice for women who were divorced.  They saved face with the census taker.  Irving did not actually die until 1949.

Minnie Leber 1940 Census

May and her mother, Minnie Wosnitzer
Minnie and her daughter, May

When anyone came to visit any one of the sisters, they always stopped at Minnie’s first.  Minnie did not like to cook, but she always put out a nice spread of either Jewish deli or a herring assortment.

When her mother was dying, she came to stay in Minnie’s apartment.  Throughout the years, Minnie had her brother, Harry, living with her (see the 1940 census above as an example).  Her daughter, May and her husband, Bernie, also lived with Minnie for 5 years right after they got married.  But after 2 grandchildren came along, the apartment got crowded so May and Bernie got their own apartment and Harry moved back in.

Minnie Wosnitzer in the House of the 4 Sisters
Minnie – looking out her window

Minnie only completed up to 8th grade in school. Nevertheless,  she was known as the smartest sister as she liked to read the newspapers daily and discuss the news with her siblings’ husbands. She was short (about 4’ 10″) and chunky, but always had a smile on her face, especially when her grandchildren were around.

She adored her daughter and they had a very close relationship.  Minnie wanted everyone to think that May was her biological child and begged the few people who knew otherwise, never to mention the adoption.  Minnie was also very close to her siblings, especially, Rose.  They were the 2 sisters who remained in the “House of the Four Sisters” after two of them moved out.  They were also the 2 sisters without husbands.

Rose, May, Minnie and Tara
 Rose, May holding Tara, a proud and happy Minnie with her first grandchild

Minnie, Rose, Tara, Ira
    Minnie and Rose with Tara and Ira in 2054 78th Street 

Minnie died in 1962 from Parkinson’s disease. In 1959, she moved in with her daughter’s home in Teaneck, NJ.  However, when May became pregnant, with her 4th child, she could no longer lift Minnie up when she fell, so Minnie had to move into a nursing home.  Her beloved daughter, May, died in 1961 from colon cancer and Minnie never accepted that.  Whenever we visited her in the nursing home, she would cry and ask over and over again, “Where’s May?  Why isn’t she coming to visit me?”  Her siblings would come and sit by her side almost daily.  They were a devoted family.  Minnie is buried next to her mother in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, NY.

Minnie Leber Cemetery Information
minnie Leber Gravestone


  • Family Memories
  • Newark, NJ City Directories

Outstanding Questions:

  • How did Minnie Meet Irving?
  • When did they get divorced?
  • How did the May’s adoption occur?