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!


Whiff of the Past in Greenpoint

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.


Gone and (Almost) Forgotten

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.


Sentimental Sunday: ‘Anything f’ Thanksgiving?’

For years, I really thought I’d hallucinated this conversation, which took place when I was around ten or eleven.

My mother, frazzled from outfitting the five of us seven kids currently eligible for trick-or-treating, broke off from adjusting someone’s mask to say how sick she was of the whole thing. “And besides — we never trick or treated on Halloween. We did it on Thanksgiving.”

This remark was promptly filed in the Things Your Parents Say Just To Annoy You folder, and forgotten. In college and beyond, I would think of it sometimes when October rolled around — when I wasn’t pondering how to treat Halloween-party aftereffects. (Never mix beer and M&Ms, is what I’m saying.)

But eventually I did realize I wasn’t hallucinating my parents, and in fact, they often said interesting things. So I went looking for a rational  explanation for the” trick-or-treat on Thanksgiving” memory. Nobody (but nobody) west of the Hudson had ever heard of such a custom, and even some of my (South) Brooklyn relatives looked at me funny, so I concluded it had to be specific to Mom’s section of Brooklyn — Greenpoint.

As it turns out, that’s fairly accurate. Also as it turns out, in 1998 a wonderful person named Frank Dmuchowski compiled a whole webpage about this custom on his site, Greenpoint.com! I love the Internet!

Well, on Thanksgiving morning, the children of Greenpoint would get dressed up in costumes and go from house to house yelling, “Anything f’ Thanksgiv’n?”. In return, and if they were lucky, they would be rewarded with coins, or a piece of fruit, or a piece of candy. In New York, this custom appears to go back to the 1920′s and 1930′s and perhaps earlier.  Apparently in those days it was called, “Ragamuffin Day” and was practiced the day before Thanksgiving.

Mr. Dmuchowski’s page includes quote after quote of memories from former Greenpointers who went about on Thanksgiving, dressed in old clothes and asking for treats. The custom even rated a mention in the all-time classic novel of Brooklyn, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In the book, plucky heroine Francie Nolan and her brother Neely brave the November chill to go door-to-door, rewarded by a hot meal of pot roast and noodles when they get back home. (The Nolans live in Williamsburg, next door to Greenpoint, so it’s all good).

Apparently there were other pockets of “ragamuffins” outside of Brooklyn — Mr. Dmuchowski’s correspondents remembered it in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, as well as in parts of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and even New Jersey. But it was a very localized custom. “Not only was it neighborhood specific, but it was block specific,” as one man recalled. “If you went west of Steinway Street, the residents had you committed to a nuthouse saying, ‘Come back at Halloween, you idiot.’ “

Why Thanksgiving? Why not Valentine’s Day? Some of Mr. Dmuchowski’s correspondents believe the custom is related to the Feast of St. Martin (Nov. 11), which is observed in many eastern and western European countries with parades of costumed children who receive little gifts of cakes and sweets. Perhaps European immigrants held on to this tradition, and smushed it together with their adopted country’s feast of Thanksgiving. It began fading out after World War II, although many kids kept it up well into the 1950s.

I really mean it when I say I love the Internet. Other than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I’ve never seen a mention in print that this custom ever existed. So Frank Dmuchowski and his co-preservationists have saved ‘Anything f’ Thanksgiving’ from oblivion.

Thanks, guys.

Note: Stay safe out there, kids. And drivers, slow DOWN! Mr. Archaeologist, himself a blogger on actuarial matters, notes that Halloween may well be our most dangerous celebration after New Year’s. Let’s all have fun and come home in one piece, OK?


Public Service Announcement

Anyone with a genealogy interest in Brooklyn, N.Y. has likely visited the Brooklyn Information Pages. (And if they haven’t, they should.)

As I once wrote for Follow Friday, this site has been compiling and sharing all things Brooklyn genealogy since 1997. For free. (Remember that concept? People helping each other out for nothing?)

This is the link for the Brooklyn Information Pages (http://www.bklyn-genealogy-info.com/).

Something called “BrooklynGenealogy.com” is NOT the same thing. It is, in fact, one of those really annoying zombie-type pages that are a collection of commercial links. So I’m not going to waste keystrokes putting a link in.

Nancy Lutz, who owns and manages the Brooklyn Information Pages, put the word out on the the NYBROOKLYN Rootsweb mailing list to clarify things. Here’s the killer: The proprietor of the click-trap site told Nancy that he appreciates her site and wouldn’t “mind people finding it through me.”

As my Brooklyn relatives might say, talk about crust.

Here is Nancy’s complete post on this topic to the Brooklyn List.


Wordless Wednesday: Coupla Buddies

My grandfather, John [Johann Georg] Rudroff, is the one on the right. We are not certain about the identity of the buddy on the left. I believe this picture was taken at some point in the 1930s near the Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) plant in Greenpoint, where my grandfather worked from shortly after his arrival in America from Germany to the time of his retirement. I like this picture because it’s a nice counterbalance to my childhood memories of Grandpa, who was not the playful, humorous sort around little kids. Not mean, just not a laugh riot.

John (Johann Georg) Rudroff and friend, 1930s

After the shift was up, we hope.

P.S. Standard Oil Company of New York was born out of the 1911 breakup of the gigantic Standard Oil monopoly. It later became Mobil, which became Exxon. There’s a little corporate genealogy for you.

P.P.S.: Apparently the Greenpoint Socony plant was the locale of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history. Sigh.


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