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Great family tree trip to Jersey

June 13th, 2016 at 05:58 pm

So dad and I spent the day yesterday exploring the 2 little towns where he and my mother grew up, along with my grandparents and my great aunts and their families.

These are 2 kind of dumpy, gritty towns and very small in terms of square miles but very densely developed. Garfield, for instance, is just two square miles in size but has a population of about 30,000. Adjacent to Garfield is Saddle Brook, which is a little bigger, at 2.7 square miles, but with half the population. The real estate values there are pretty high, though, becus of the area's proximity to the city, which is right across the river. There are a lot of jobs on both sides of the river, now and at the time the families first settled here.

There were thousands of immigrants getting off the boats across the Hudson: German, Italian, Slavic, Russian, Hungarian, Polish. They landed at Ellis Island, looked across the river toward Jersey and decided the other side was as good a place as any to put down roots.

So we looked up a bunch of addresses where various family members lived. Dad's memory and directions were flawless. We were looking at places where family members lived from about 1929, when my grandfather first stepped off the passenger ship "Dresden" at Ellis Island, into the 1940s.

If we hadn't gone on this trip, dad probably wouldn't have remembered a lot of details, and he was telling me so much I couldn't keep up and I was driving so I couldn't take notes.

One of my favorite of his recollections was when he showed me the old brick apartment house where he lived from about pre-school age to 4 years old.


They lived on the 2nd floor of this building, facing the street. They didn't have a refrigerator but they had an ice box that was made to fit in the window and face out, like an air conditioner. If you wanted ice, you put a little sign out on the box so the ice man would know. He would then carry up a big block of ice for you.

Dad asked me to walk into the lobby and see if the original white marble steps and walls were still there. They are.




So strange to imagine my grandparents collecting their mail here, years before I was born.

Across the street is another brick building where they sold live chickens to the housewives. That's all they sold, live chickens. They were kept in cages stacked from floor to ceiling and you'd go in and pick the one you wanted; they they'd go out back and kill it for you.


Here's the chicken store now. It looks like it's being used as an apartment building. This is also the spot where a really cute photo of my dad was taken when he was a little boy and he was sitting with a neighbor's girl who was playing with a litter of kittens inside a giant truck tire.



We had lunch at a diner on Rt. 46 that dad said existed back then, though it looked a little different. Just think that my grandparents could have sat and eaten there 20 years before I was born, and now I was eating there 39 years after my grandfather died. It's almost like the Twilight Zone or something.

Here's where one of my great aunts lived with her husband.



I don't know why, but I never met my 2 great aunts, grandpa's sisters, although they were still living in the area. Both came from Germany, after my grandfather did in 1923. Dad said the one sister married a Nazi and that when she got pregnant, they made a point to return to Germany to give birth so the child could have dual citizenship. However, the year she gave birth to her son was 1934, at a time when the Nazi party was just gaining political power; I don't think anyone then could have foreseen what would unfold.

This was the aunt who brought my dad to a German-American Bund camp.

We met a friendly neighbor who talked to us at length.

The other sister of my grandfather's lived with her husband here:


They didn't have any children. He was a foreman at Forsman's Woolen Mill.

Switching to my mother's side of the family, here's where my maternal grandmother's family home was when she grew up.



I had never seen any of these addresses, nor did I realize during all those years of visiting my mother's parents home that everyone else lived so close!

I got quite a shock to see my maternal grandparents' home, where so many happy memories were made, no longer exists. They built a new house there.



There was a little walkway to a small park in the back and you can see it here to the right of their house. Behind the house is a big ugly old factory building which is still there.


This is the view after having walked back into the little park. The spot where my grandparents' house stood is now occupied by a new house at left, and you can see the factory building at right. Grandpa used to grow veggies in his backyard but the new house takes up much more space.

My grandfather built that house himself. It was a one bedroom, one bath brick ranch with a spare room (no closet) and a super large Florida room where they practically lived in the summer.

I spoke to a friendly next door neighbor, a Pole, who said they knocked down my grandparents' brick ranch house a few years after he bought his house in 1995.

I hadn't known that my dad grew up for his teen years on 4th Street while my mother lived literally around the block on 5th Street. In a 2.7 square mile town, is it any wonder they met and married??

Also no longer in existence is an earlier address where dad lived in Garfield. There's a brand new duplex condo there completed in 2015.



The unit on the right is for sale right now for a little over $500,000.

We looked for the big maple tree in the backyard, but it's not there anymore either.

It was a great trip. I enjoyed my dad's company. I'm not sure I ever took such a long trip with him, just the two of us. He still knew his way around so well, there was no need for the typed directions I had painstakingly prepared to get us from one address to the next. I knew the area was densely populated and I thought there might be a lot of missteps getting around, but that really didn't happen.

I do feel a little regretful that my grandparents never felt a need to stay close to their extended families that all lived so close by. I never actually knew they were alive and well and living close by. I was aware all my grandparents had big families but that's about it. Aside from very occasionally seeing some of my maternal grandfather's brothers and their families over the holidays, there wasn't any other family socializing. It strikes me as very odd.

Before heading home we stopped in Rutherford, about 15 minutes south, to see my half-brother. He was home alone; his wife was out with the kids. It was the 1st time I saw his house.

8 Responses to “Great family tree trip to Jersey”

  1. rob62521 Says:

    Sounds like a fabulous day with your dad. How cool!

  2. LuckyRobin Says:

    What a wonderful trip. All that family history unveiled.

  3. Laura S. Says:

    I am so glad you got to do this with your father. I enjoyed reading this. What a wonderful experience for both of you!

  4. Carol Says:

    A wonderful trip. It made me think of taking photos of the homes in our history. Neat!

  5. CB in the City Says:

    I had a great day like this several years ago when my cousin took me around to places our grandparents had lived, and we visited the graveyards, too.

    I remember, when I was a child, we had elderly neighbors next door who still had an icebox!

  6. Cindyann Says:

    very interesting trip with photos. thanks for sharing. :-)

  7. Dido Says:

    What a cool trip, what interesting old memories unearthed, and what a wonderful shared new memory created with your Dad!

  8. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    that is amazing!

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