The 1940 Files: Grandparents Edition

Even without a Great Mystery to solve in the 1940 census, everyone has things they’re curious about. How does what we find stack up against what we were wondering? Over the next few days I’ll share some of my own comparisons.

As a starting point, I made a list of New York City relatives whose addresses were as close to sure bets as anything gets in genealogy. I then used Steve Morse and Joel Weintraub’s Unified 1940 Census E.D. Finder to find them in the 1940 census. The Unified Finder proved to be a thing of beauty, in my case. In under an hour I found E.D.s for all my candidates. (Only one false start, and it was my own fault – I transposed two digits on the street number.)

Enough of the preliminaries. Here’s case study No. 1.

Names: Raymond and Margaret Haigney

Relationship: Paternal grandparents

Background: This was to be my grandfather Raymond’s last census appearance. Raymond (born 1891) died of a heart attack seven months later at age 49, on 26 November 1940. This sad fact carries a genealogical benefit – the address on Raymond’s death certificate would almost certainly be where he lived when the census was taken. Raymond and Margaret both died before my parents met, and my father never talked much to us about his childhood. So anything in this census is potentially interesting.

Curiosities:

• What did my father’s family look like in this last snapshot with both parents alive?

• What was my father’s first name going to be in this census? (I know; it’s a long story.)

Results: Here are Raymond and Margaret, right where I supposed they’d be. Listed with them are eight of their ten surviving children, including my father. (Two of his older brothers were married and living in their own households by this time. Oh, and there is one person in that list who is still with us, which is why you can’t read that name.)

Names: Great news! My father has regained his baptismal name, Peter. In 1930, he was listed as Jerome, which happens to be his middle name, apparently because his mother had a serious issue with his first name. I told the story here. I am glad Dad got his first name back. I wonder what discussions were involved.

Money: Raymond worked as a health inspector for the city of New York, not bad for a guy who never was able to attend high school (see below).  His salary was $2,100 a year. Still, adjusted for inflation (using this nifty tool here), that would be $32,609.42 – not a ton of salary to raise eight kids on. I’m sure the money his two oldest daughters brought home came in handy.

Education:  Raymond had completed school through the seventh grade; his wife the sixth. Their oldest daughter, Catherine, completed eight grades and was working as a packer at “Beech-Nut”, probably the Beech-Nut factory at 148 39th Street in Brooklyn. Maybe she’d answered a Brooklyn Eagle ad like this one from January 1945:

The next sister, Dorothy, had graduated high school and was a clerk at a wholesale grocery. Most of the other kids, including my dad, were still in school. Dad’s older brother Joseph had completed two years of college (I think he was the first college student in the family), and was working as a “gov’t.” messenger. I’m assuming that Dad was in his junior year of high school, since the census said he had already completed two years.

After Dad’s father died, the family considered the obvious choice of having Dad leave high school and go to work like his older sisters. (As you can see from this census, there were a lot of younger kids still at home.) My mother said one of Dad’s teachers persuaded my grandmother to let Dad finish high school. But it must have been hard.

Takeaway: As I’ve said, I don’t have a lot to go on with my dad’s family. Dad himself died of a heart attack at age 59, before I really got serious about genealogy, so what he himself would have had to say about this period in his life, I can only guess.

I first heard the story of his almost dropping out of school from my mom, and my reaction was resentful: How could they? He was smart, he was hardworking. How unfair! If it hadn’t been for Dad’s teacher, a shortsighted decision might have put his life on a very different path.

But looking at the names and numbers from 1940, and knowing the event that’s about to hit them all in a few months, puts this story in a different perspective. Life can really deal out some tough choices sometimes. I don’t envy my grandmother the situation she faced.

Next time: The maternal grandparents!


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