As I once wrote, gifts and bequests can carry a double edge for the institutions which receive them.
Here is an interesting problem for the Brooklyn Museum, as reported today by the New York Times. A major bequest made in 1932 of nearly 1,000 fine paintings and artifacts seemed at first like a wonderful windfall, but is now, to some extent, a white elephant.
The huge collection was left to the museum by Col. Michael Friedsam, head of the legendary Altman department store and an associated philantrophic foundation.
First snag: About a fourth of the items were either forgeries or misattributions or basically not up to snuff in some way. So the museum wouldn’t mind selling the 229 pieces it no longer wants (but has to spend lots of money storing).
Second snag: Friedsam’s will specified that nothing could be disposed of without permission from the executors. And the last executor died in 1962.
Sounds like a job for a forensic genealogist. From the Times’ story by Patricia Cohen:
Noting that the will specified that the art should go to the colonel’s brother-in-law and two friends if the collection were not kept together, Judge Nora Anderson told the museum in December 2011 that it must search for these three men’s descendants before she would rule.
Nothing’s ever simple, right?
Next up in my initial 1940 census snapshots are my maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Germany’s rural Upper Franconia district in the mid-1920s and settled in Greenpoint.
Names: John and Eva Rudroff
Relationship: Maternal grandparents
Background: After crossing the Atlantic, John (1886-1969) and Eva (1895-1963) didn’t move around. They moved to 39 Sutton Street in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn shortly after they married in 1927, and that was it until Grandpa died in 1969. This was where they raised my mother and her twin brother. It was also the place from which Grandma Eva sent a care package after World War II to cousins in bombed-out Wurzburg, one of whom recited the exact address (with zip code) to me forty years later, by way of explaining just how memorable that package was to her as a little girl.
• Did the 1940 census taker get the surname spelled right? In 1930, the enumerator listed it as “Rutkoff.”
• How did Grandpa’s employment and wage information stack up? Mom always said they were very lucky that he held on to a good job at Standard Oil of New York all through the Depression years.
• Yay for the 1940 enumerator, who spelled the name the same way my grandparents spelled it. OK, so my grandma was listed as “Eve,” not “Eva,” but whaddya gonna do. Also consistent with other family records, my grandfather was a naturalized citizen (he became one in 1933); my grandmother was not (and never did become one).
• Grandpa and Grandma Rudroff had both completed eight grades of school, according to this census. My mother and her brother, now 12-year-old twins, had completed six, and I assume that they were in the seventh grade at the time the census was taken.
• As I expected, Grandpa’s job was “fireman, oil co.,” meaning he tended boilers at the Standard Oil of New York plant not far from where the family lived. During the week of March 24-30, 1940, he’d put in 32 hours, which was on the low side compared to some other entries on the page. (Most were in the range of 40 to 45 hours, although one factory watchman listed a whopping 84 hours.)
• Grandpa’s yearly salary was $1,150, or about $17,680 in today’s dollars. Not bad, but definitely below the yearly average for the mid-1930s in New York City ($1,745, or $27,425 today). This squares with my mother’s description of her childhood as being free from anxiety over where the next meal was coming from, but without a lot of spare change for anything besides the necessities.
Takeaway: At first glance, I don’t see a lot of surprises here, but then, this is a pretty familiar part of the family story. However, I am having a lot of fun comparing the information on this entry to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending, the source for the New York City average salary figure listed above. If you’re curious about how far your family’s income might have stretched, check it out (at the link, you can download a .pdf file).
Next time: The mysterious distant cousin.
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.
• 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!
We’ve all been to museums and festivals where the sights and sounds of history are re-enacted, but … the smells of history?
That is what you’ll get when on October 22, when the Brooklyn Diggers, a collective of artists and historians, throws a 150th birthday party for the Monitor, the Union Army’s ironclad ship built in Greenpoint in 1861.
At “Monitor 1861,” an outdoor installation in McGolrick Park, wooden smell boxes filled with horse manure, tar, spices and coal will enable visitors to drink in the atmosphere of long-ago Greenpoint. Whether they will like it or not is debatable, but in any case there will also be music, food, a walking tour and a 14-foot model of the ship on offer.
More details at the link above or at the Brooklyn Diggers’ blog.
Many family histories, if not most, are frustratingly incomplete. People vanish, leaving behind only cryptic sentences in letters or documents – moved West; left no forwarding address. Sometimes we find them; sometimes we don’t. We can’t always know everything, much as we’d like to.
But in the case of my distant cousin Catherine Haigney, I sure wish I could.
She died in 1946, in some violent way. The death certificate was quite clear (if shocking) on that point. The death was referred to the medical examiner for further investigation.
So off I went to apply for the coroner’s report, thinking that even if I didn’t like what was in it, at least it would explain Catherine’s death to my satisfaction.
Well, yes and no.
Catherine entered her final hours on September 16, 1946 lying unconscious on the floor of her Brooklyn apartment. Her landlady found her and called an ambulance. At Kings County Hospital, they found a wound on her head had resulted in a brain hemorrhage. She died two days later, without regaining consciousness.
So where did the head wound come from?
According to the hospital:
“Patient unconscious when admitted. Impression: Subdural hematoma, multiple abrasions. Said to have been beaten up one week ago, was a patient in this hospital and released.”
According to the medical examiner:
“This is a re-currence of injuries received on Sept. 9-1946. Their [sic] is no report of a case on Sept. 9-th, 1946 in the 68th Pct.”
And also from the medical examiner:
“Deceased was brought to the Kings County Hospital on the 16th day of September, in an unconscious state, from her home, she having allegedly received head injury in some unknown manner, about one week prior to admission. Police, however, have no record of any alleged assault and report nothing suspicious.”
There is a lot more in the way of facts and figures. As a set of documents, this coroner’s report is really interesting, and I’ll write about that in another post.
But none of it says anything more about the violent act that ultimately killed Catherine. The medical examiner’s report mentions that a detective from the 68th Precinct was assigned to investigate Catherine’s death. And that’s where the story leaves off.
What happened? One big problem: The incident that fractured Catherine’s skull wasn’t reported to the authorities at the time. (Or, possibly, it was reported, but was not considered worth looking into.) So forget about it turning up as a newspaper police blotter item somewhere around Sept. 9. It seems that the next step would be finding out what, if anything, was reported by the detective who investigated after her death.
I’ve taken my time about writing this one up, because frankly, it’s just really sad and frustrating. Especially the idea that somebody could be beaten that seriously and nothing would come of it, at least judging from the papers I have so far. Could this have been considered a “domestic incident” too mundane to make a big deal of? (Tough to reflect upon, but definitely not unheard-of.) Was there something about her lifestyle that put her in the category of people too marginal to worry about? Or was it just something that couldn’t be solved?
Guesses, that’s all I have at the moment. Also, a lot of sadness.