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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Who was Anna Van Bloem of Staten Island?

Ruth Mills died in Paris on October 13, 1920 at age 65.  She was survived by her husband, her twin sister, three children, and several grandchildren.  When her will was read, bequests were made to her family as one would expect.*  She also included some of her servants.  She gave $2000 each to her butler, Frederick Thompson, as well as Eva Wilton, Mary Golding, and Maggie Sheridan.  Her will stated that they would receive the money on the condition that they were still in her service at the time of her death.  In one other bequest apart from her family and servants, Ruth stipulated an amount of $1,000 should go to Mrs. Anna Van Bloem of Staten Island.  She was not family and there were no conditions included like the bequest to the other servants.  So if she was was not currently in service to Ruth, who was Mrs. Anna Van Bloem?  I resolved to find out.

While doing research on Staatsburgh's servants, I came across a 1909 article in the Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise that spoke about the upcoming marriage of Mrs. Mills' housekeeper, Miss Jacobi.  I tried to look for more information about a Miss Jacobi who worked for the Mills household, but I could not find anything.

The Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise, March 27, 1909

Eventually, when studying passenger lists on ship manifests, I discovered an Anna Jacobeit who along with two other domestics traveled abroad with the family from 1904-1908.  The same three women were listed on the manifest as maids, but one time Anna was listed as a "lady companion."  Since Jacobi is very close to Jacobeit, I figured it must be the same person.  Now that I had a proper spelling of the name, I did a search for Anna Jacobeit and found a marriage record for an April 10, 1909 wedding between Anna A. Jacobeit and Paul H. Van Bloem.  As it turns out, I answered two questions with this discovery!

Now that I knew the correct married and maiden names of Anna, I was able to dig a little more and fill in at least a few more details of her life.  She was originally born in Hagen, Germany in 1861 or 1863.  Most records in the US list her birth date as 1863, but I did find a German birth record that listed 1861.  Perhaps she decided that shaving two years off of her age would improve her employment chances.  She immigrated to the United States in approximately 1891 and by 1904 was working for the Mills family.  Her prior employment and experience is unknown, but she did have at least three other siblings who also lived in the US.

Like Miss Anna Jacobeit, Paul H. Van Bloem was also a German immigrant, but unlike Miss Jacobeit, he was divorced.  He married his first wife Clara in 1891 and she filed for divorce in 1895.  Because divorce was uncommon at the time, and also because his first wife leveled strong allegations again him, there were some newspapers articles about the divorce.

New York Herald - December 12, 1895
She claimed that he was cruel to both her and their young son.  She also stated that he fired their servant a month after they were married and made her carry coal and do household work even though he could afford a servant.  He was currently a clerk in a banking house making $2,000 a year.  The day after this inflammatory article appeared in the paper, a shorter article appeared to say that Mr. Van Bloem's lawyer arranged a separation with $15 a week alimony in order to avoid further publicity.  Her allegations of mistreatment were horrible, but also a rare view into a late nineteenth century relationship.  Presumably Mr. Van Bloem and Anna were much happier together since they did not divorce and the newspapers did not write sordid articles about their relationship.

Miss Jacobeit appears to have left service and the Mills employ around the time she became Mrs. Van Bloem.  She was in her 40's at the time and it is a mystery as to how she and Paul met.  Perhaps they met at a gathering for German immigrants. They were married in Boston on April 10, 1909.  Anna's sister Marie lived in Boston with her husband so perhaps that is why they chose this location for their wedding.  After their marriage they settled in Paul's home on Staten Island where they lived until he died in 1937 and she in 1952.  By 1940, Anna was still living in the same home, but now her unmarried sister Cecile was living with her.  Every few years, Anna traveled to Europe both for a vacation and to visit family in Germany.  She applied for her own passport in 1924 and we were lucky to find the records along with the accompanying photo.

Mrs. Anna Van Bloem, 1924 Passport Photo

Mrs. Van Bloem's appearance and clothing do show that she was likely financially comfortable.  She is wearing jewelry, a wig, and a nice dress.  We do not know if she stayed in touch with the Mills family after she left their service, but her appearance in Ruth's will seems to indicate that in the very least, she left on good terms.  It is also possible that she lived with her husband, but occasionally continued to do some work for the Mills family.  Perhaps we will uncover more records and evidence about the life of Anna Jacobeit Van Bloem, and be able to paint an even fuller outline of her life, but we did solve two mysteries which is a worthwhile accomplishment.

*Ruth's will was dated January 6, 1920 so it was updated less than a year before she died.


  1. So was she a housekeeper, ladies companion, or maid?

  2. Good question. One article said housekeeper, the census said maid, and the ship manifest said lady companion. Because these documents are the only record we could find of her life, we may never know her exact role.