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.


• 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.


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.


• 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 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 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.