The 1940 Files: Immigrants in Greenpoint

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.

Curiosities:

• 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.

Results:

• 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.


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!


1940 Census Links Part II: Fun Finds

Last time the links were about the hows of searching 1940. This time, they’re about some examples of the gold (and a bit of tin) at the end of that census rainbow.

Kimberly Powell found her grandpa in big-city Pittsburgh.

• As the Gothamist reports, the New York Public Library is painstakingly covering the Famous New York People Angle, for example, J.D. Salinger.

• Plus, Stanley Kubrick.

• In all the 1940 excitement, it’s good to remember basic common sense. And Judy Russell at the Legal Genealogist reminds us, via an example in her own family, that the census can get things wrong, and should not be considered the final word.

• This brings us, neatly enough, to a great post from sci-fi blogger Mike at File 770, who investigated what little Robert Heinlein and his family in L.A. were up to in 1940. And they may have been having a blast making up stories to tell census takers. Don’t miss the lively discussion in the comments section. Those wacky Heinleins!

Am I done with 1940 yet? Heck no. (Is anyone?)

Forthcoming: a series of posts in which I explore a few early case studies from my own family — what I thought I’d find, what was actually there, and what I learned from it.


1940 Census Links Part I: Procedurals

Oh, 1940, 1940, 1940! I think the crashes have stopped and it’s safe to go out now. It seemed like a great idea to do a post on 1940s census links, until I started actually writing it and experienced a kinship moment with Fibber McGee of overstuffed closet fame. (Your 1940 relatives probably knew all about Fibber McGee! Look it up!)

Anyway, 1940s census news can be roughly divided into two areas: Tips/Tricks and Fun Finds. Herewith, some tips and tricks. (Part II will cover some fun finds tomorrow.)

• Most Wired Generation Meets Greatest Generation In Census Frenzy: The truth? This headline is priceless. Honestly, this Bloomberg.com article could be complete gibberish and I wouldn’t care. (It isn’t. It’s a good general rundown of 1940 census news.)

• Why I’m Excited about the 1940 Census from Amy Johnson Crow was written way back in November, when everyone was still dreaming about searching 1940. However, it contains a quick and useful rundown of information that makes the 1940 census special.

• Still don’t know where to begin? This link will take you to a .pdf set of instructions from Ancestry.com on what you need to get started searching the 1940 census. It is especially useful for tips on how to figure out your family member’s 1940 address, about which you really must have at least a vague idea if you want to locate them in this census, which is still largely un-indexed.

• Another tremendous list of tips on this subject can be found on Steve Morse’s 1940 census tutorial.

• And once you’ve found that vital address, Morse’s Unified Census ED Finder can get you to the enumeration district (in my own case, extremely easily). Once it pulls up your enumeration district, it will also give you a choice of sites at which to view the pages.

• Consider being a census indexer. Yes, you’ve heard this before, but really, consider it. The FamilySearch 1940 indexing page has a link where you can sign up, and gives a rundown of indexing progress. Only Delaware and Nevada are completely indexed. (Ancestry says Nevada is indexed; the FamilySearch map didn’t display Nevada data last time I checked, which might be a function of my currently buggy browser.) Anyway: Indexing is fun! Well, OK, not exactly fun, but surprisingly soothing. And extremely gratifying.

Next time: Fun Finds.


Ephemera and Why They (It?) Are (Is?) Cool

Ephemera: Items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, especially pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc.

In the genealogy world “ephemera” can include everything from school attendance certificates to Edwardian hotel menus — anything at all, which I suppose is the point. Here is a nice essay about that, from the Independent Online Booksellers Association.

Recently, my cousin Carol Ann generously shared a nifty bit of ephemera — a book of addresses kept by our great-aunt Anna Haigney. Anna (1904-79) was my great-grandfather Joseph’s adopted daughter. A dedicated nurse, she  volunteered her skills to aid victims of the tragic 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Conn.

The book is not an actual address book with alphabetized sections, but a plain leatherette-bound notebook with lined pages, seven  inches long, four inches wide.  It doesn’t include great-grandpa Joseph, which might mean Anna began keeping it after he died in 1938. Or it might not. It doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive list of addresses. It looks more like a quick  reference book where Anna jotted down addresses she thought would come in handy.

Well, this unassuming little book is going to keep me busy for a while. It contains some promising entries that might untangle a lot of nagging questions. But for now let’s just take a look at an entry that fit so neatly into some previous detective work, I got a little misty-eyed, I really did.

See that first name, Cerelia? Very pretty, and unusual. It was also the name of the oldest daughter in the Brant family of Jersey City, with whom was boarding a man named “Joseph Hagney” listed in the 1900 census.

As I whined about wrote in a previous post, the 1900 census has long been the Mystery Zone as far as my Haigney great-grandparents are concerned. Documentation places them with boring regularity in Watervliet, N.Y. up to 1899, and with equally boring regularity in Brooklyn after 1901. But 1900 appears to have been The Year They Were Moving.

So far the one decent census possibility has been the entry in Jersey City for Joseph Hagney, a house painter (which happens to have been my great-grandfather’s occupation according to the Watervliet city directory the year before). A little bit of digging revealed that his landlords, the Brants, also had ties to the Watervliet area.  And I know from the death certificate of Joseph’s son, Leo, that by February 1901, the family had only been living in Brooklyn for five months.

All this added up to a reasonable hypothesis that Joseph was living apart from his family in June 1900, boarding with a family he knew from the Capital District. While it would have been nice to get another piece of information to prop this up, it seemed unlikely. Until Great-Aunt Anna’s notebook, that is.

Now, it’s possible that Anna just happened to know some random person named Cerelia. But Anna’s notebook also contains entries on adjacent pages for “Ursula Cameron,” also in Elizabeth, N.J.,  and “Rose Filoramo,” of Jersey City. And here are the six children of Edwin and Rose Brant, with whom Joseph Hagney stayed in 1900: Cerlia [sic], Harry, Rose, Urslia [sic], Edwin and Margaret.

The hunch seems a lot more solid now. This family is very likely to have hosted my great-grandfather for a while in 1900, and moreover, Anna was still in touch with them decades later.

This is why I wish we all had cousins like Carol Ann, Righteous Friend to Genealogy Wonks™,  who know how interested we are in family ephemera, however ephemeral. How many times does stuff like this get pitched, or put away in a drawer and forgotten? Yet viewed with the right context, ephemera can be a total gold mine.


Wrong Source Or Wrong Turn? (Part 2)

In Part One,  I was tempted to visualize my way into a mistake by over-interpreting a perfectly innocent piece of census data: a prime example of the source being right and the perception going astray.

But investigating this family further has produced more confusion, as further investigation often will. Makes you want to retire your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap for good.

By carefully looking at data on Martin and Mary Haigney and their family in the period of 1860-1870, it was possible to establish that the big gap in ages between their first and second sons resulted not from a second marriage and a second family, but because three daughters were born and died between censuses. Step by step, I re-traced my way through the evidence:

First steps: U.S. Censuses of 1860 and 1870 and an 1890 affidavit from Martin Haigney’s Civil War pension file, establishing that his first child, Joseph, was born in 1859, with the next two surviving children being  William, born in 1867, and Margaret, born in 1870.

Second step: Re-checking my handwritten family genealogy gold mine, also known as The List. It listed seven children for Martin and Mary: Joseph F.; William;  “Mary I and Margaret I — died in infancy”; Mary “II”, Margaret “II”, and Martin. It did not include birth dates.

Third step: Baptismal records for the Haigney children, transcribed from the register of St. Bridget’s Roman Catholic Church, Watervliet, now in the archives at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church. St Bridget’s listed baptisms for eight children, not seven:

  1. Joseph, 29 January 1859.
  2. Mary, 31 March 1861.
  3. Joanna, 26 July 1863.
  4. Ellen, 10 September 1865.
  5. William, 10 November 1867.
  6. Margaret, 16 January 1870.
  7. Mary Ann, 25 August 1872.
  8. Martin, 11 November 1874.

I nodded tolerantly when I saw these entries. The List had been pretty accurate so far. In fact, darn near 100 percent accurate. But now it had missed a kid. And it had listed a “Margaret” as dying in infancy, when clearly that child had to be named either Ellen or Joanna.

Oh, well; even The List is entitled to an off day. And off I went to the …

Fourth step: Finding this family in the New York State census of June 1865. Obviously a very useful resource, since it provides a glimpse of the family midway between federal censuses. Here’s what it said:

  1. Martin Haigney, 35, male, head of household. Born in Ireland. Parent of 3 children. Married once. Occupation: Soldier. Place of Employment: U.S. Arsenal. Currently in Army.
  2. Mary Haigney, 30, female, wife. Born in Ireland. Parent of 3 children. Married once. Status: Married.  Citizenship status: Alien.
  3. Joseph Haigney, 6, male, son. Born in Albany [County].
  4. Mary Haigney, [age mark illegible; might be a 4, judging from other 4s on the page].  Female, daughter.  Born in Albany [County].
  5. Margaret Haigney, 2, female, daughter. Born in Albany [County].

Fifth step: Huh????????

Somewhere I just know that my Aunt Catherine, compiler of The List, is crowing and saying that’s what comes of thinking you know it all.

Why is the child whose age corresponds to the baptismal register’s “Joanna” called “Margaret” by the 1865 census taker, and by Aunt Catherine’s source for her List?  Which piece of data is wrong?

I can tell you that the church archivist who is transcribing the St. Bridget’s registers mentioned that the recordkeeping can be sloppy. So maybe “Joanna” in the register is an error, plain and simple. Or maybe the little girl was called Joanna Margaret, and the family preferred to call her Margaret.

At the moment, I have compromised in my genealogy records by listing her as Joanna [Margaret]. Will I ever know her name for sure? Mysteries like this are infuriating, and addicting.


Wrong Source or Wrong Turn? (Part 1)

“Sometimes … the actual source is just fine: it’s our perception of that old document that may need a bit of work.”

“Yesss!” said I when this quote popped up as I was Google-Reader-ing the other day.

It comes from AGS fellow and author Henry Z. Jones, who gives a talk called “When the Sources are Wrong” that I’d dearly love to hear someday. [Note: If you’re going to the Chula Vista (CA) Genealogical Society meeting tomorrow, you can!]

Mr. Jones’ wise words remind us how easy it can be to take a wrong turn to Genealogy Nowheresville. I’ve flirted with disaster a few times (cough), but never more temptingly than when I was trying to unravel the mystery of an Irish great-great-grandmother’s maiden name.

I’ve written before about the search for Mary Haigney’s birth name. I started with death certificates for the two eldest of Mary and her husband Martin Haigney’s surviving children: my great-grandfather Joseph (1859-1938) and his brother William (1867-1930). They differed on the mother’s maiden name. Joseph’s said it was Mary Mahon; William’s said Mary Carroll.

That earlier post focused on analyzing evidence that was very specific and personal to my family: death certificates, an obituary, a handwritten genealogy and, ultimately, my great-great-grandfather’s Civil War pension file. But there was another, less personal source to consider: census data. And here’s where perception could easily have led me astray from reality.

Conflicting death certificates in hand, I revisited the census data I had on this family, which at the time was limited to the federal censuses of 1860, 1870 and 1880.

1860: Martin, age 28, laborer, born in Ireland, listed at two addresses: by himself in a barracks at the Watervliet Arsenal, and at a dwelling in West Troy (later renamed Watervliet) with his wife, Mary, age 26, born in Ireland, and their son, Joseph, four months, born in New York state.

1870: Martin, age 40, laborer, living in West Troy with wife Mary, age 37, and children Joseph, 11; William, 2; and Margaret, 6 months.

1880: Martin Haigney, age 53, laborer, living in Watervliet with wife Mary, age 50, and four children, William, 12; Margaret, 10; Mary, 8;and Martin, 6.  Joseph F. Haigney, age 21, was living in a boardinghouse across the Hudson River in the city of Troy.

Can you see the tempting wrong turn in this data? I thought the changes in Martin’s household between 1860 and 1870 were a potential red flag. There he was in 1860 with a wife named Mary and a baby son. There he was in 1870 with Mary and what amounts to two sets of children — an 11 year old and two little ones, separated from the first birth by 8 years.

And there I was with two Marys on two death certificates — a Mahon and a Carroll. Could the first Mary (Joseph’s mother) have died, and a second Mary (William’s and Margaret’s mother) have replaced her? A lot can happen in ten years!

Well, a lot did happen — just not that. In my defense, my original theory wouldn’t have been unheard of at the time. But the real story was also sadly common. There was only one Mary, as it turned out, and her name was Mahon. The reason for the big gap between Joseph and William was that Martin and Mary had three little girls after Joseph, none of whom lived to be counted in the 1870 census.

The “two Marys” theory officially died when I obtained a copy of a handwritten family genealogy compiled by one of my aunts. It listed two of the  children who died young, bringing the total of Martin and Mary’s offspring to seven. Then I found a 1958 newspaper story about their daughter Margaret, which asserted that she was one of eight children. Finally, on a trip to Watervliet last fall, I was able to gather the baptismal dates of all of Martin and Mary’s children — and there were indeed eight. The three daughters missing from the 1870 census were born in 1861, 1863 and 1865.

When exactly they died, I don’t yet know.

But I do know that for a time there, I had some perfectly good census data in hand — and was tempted to imagine my way into a perfectly wrongheaded conclusion.

(Coming up in Part 2: Another naming mystery!)


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