1 Reply Latest reply on Nov 7, 2019 9:07 AM by Malisa Simco

    Seeking how disputed death benefits claim in 1939 were resolved

    Nancy Summers Newbie

      My grandmother Beile Lifschitz (later Bella Leaf) arrived at Ellis Island in 1906 from Rechitsa, Russia with her parents and siblings. Her father Louis Leaf (formerly Leibe Lifschitz) applied for citizenship in 19 XX and received his naturalization certificate in 19 XX. At the time, US law provided that the spouse and children of a naturalized person became citizens automatically, without further paperwork. I think that some, if not all of the brothers did file their own naturalization papers and received citizenship certificates. But as far as I know, Morris’ wife and daughter (my grandmother) filed no such papers.


      In 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, Bella Leaf married Jones Alper (formerly Jonas Liss), who immigrated to the US around 1900. I have not yet been able to find his ship arrival record. They moved from North Hempstead, Nassau County, NY to Chicago, Illinois in the mid to late 1930s, where most of the Leaf family lived. Jones died in Chicago in 1939.  Bella filed for death benefits with, I assume, the Social Security Administration.  Her claim was denied and she had to hire a lawyer to help her with the complicated paperwork. How was a disputed death benefits claim in 1939 resolved for a widow who was automatically naturalized before 1924 under her father’s naturalization, and had no paperwork of her own?

      I would like to find out the details of what  happened and how it was resolved, but I can’t figure out what kinds of records to look for or where to look for them. Jones registered for the WWI draft but may not have ever received a Social Security number.  Bella seemed to have had no citizenship papers, but I did find an index card in the US naturalization record indexes, with number 476169. She applied for a Social Security number In 1938. What would she have had to do in order to support her claim for benefits?


      I would much appreciate any help you can provide.

        • Re: Seeking how disputed death benefits claim in 1939 were resolved

          Dear Ms. Summers,


          Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


          The Cable Act was enacted in 1922 allowing women their own right to citizenship apart from their father or spouse; prior to 1922 a woman’s citizenship status was tied directly to that male figure and there was no requirement for documentation when citizenship status shifted. Therefore, if Bella’s father received citizenship prior to 1922, while Bella was a minor, she would have derived citizenship from her father, and would not have paperwork documenting that.  If the brothers later filed their own petitions for citizenship, they must not have been minors at the time that their father received his citizenship or they too would have received derivative citizenship.


          To prove her citizenship later in life, Bella would have needed to show her father’s naturalization record. This could include showing a copy of his paperwork or perhaps just correspondence with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) indicating that they confirmed his status. It also is likely her birth certificate was presented to show her parent/child relationship. Additionally, Bella could have gone to INS to get a certificate issued if there was cause for her to present her own certificate - her certificate would have been called a “Derivative A” certificate.


          Bella’s father will have a Certificate File (C-Files) through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program. If Bella did pursue obtaining her own Derivative A certificate to prove her citizenship status in the disputed death benefits case, it is possible that she also may have a Certificate File.  We suggest request an index search through the USCIS Genealogy Program to determine what exists.


          We hope this is helpful! Best of luck with your family research!


          [Information provided by Elizabeth Burnes, Subject Matter Expert]