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My new obssession

June 10th, 2016 at 03:57 am

Well, I've talked about it before on this site. A month or so ago I began researching my family tree, and boy, am I hooked!

I am content for now to still be researching just the 1st 4 generations back. As the genealogist at the club meeting i went to last night said, you don't research individuals..you research families.

She also said don't bother paying extra for the international version of Ancestry.com until you have done thorough and comprehensive research on the domestic part of your family.

Here are some of the latest tidbits I've found:

1. My grandfather went to prison! When I researched his name, of course I got back a gazillion results. Even if you think you have an unusual family name, you will still get many thousands of results. You can scan these results by looking at an abbreviated summary of each result, to save time. So when I looked at these results weeks ago, I remember coming across an entry indicating someone with my grandfather's name lived in Elmira, NY. I passed that entry by because I knew he lived in the Garfield/Saddle Brook area of New Jersey.

Well, that entry popped up again in a search last night and I just decided to open it for more details. For one thing, it indicated the middle initial was W., and I had since found out that my grandfather did indeed have a middle name starting with "W", which I hadn't known before.

But anyway, when I opened it up, the address given in Elmira was the New York State Reformatory!

The ONLY reason I discovered this is because he was there in 1930, a census year. As you may know, the federal census is only done every 10 years. So if, say, he had been in prison in 1929 or 1931, I would likely never have known about it because there was no census done in those years.

I couldn't find anything else indicating how long he was there, or for what. I do know my grandmother married him in 1933. I wonder whether she was dating him before prison and decided to stick with him anyway. Perhaps more likely, she met him after he got out of prison...I'm thinking people may not have dated for extended periods of time before marriage, as they may do these days.

I vaguely remember my grandmother telling me my grandfather and his 4 brothers, born and raised in the Harlem area of New York City, were involved in criminal activities like racketeering and loan sharking early on, with possible connections to the Mafia (we're not Italian) and their mother urged them to leave the city, and most of them did eventually go across the river to New Jersey.

I also remember my mother's first cousin, who I connected with after my mother died, telling me her father (my grandfather's brother) had gone to prison.

So my grandfather would have been 22 years old at the time.

I am sure this will surprise my dad. This happened a few years before he and my mother were born and I doubt he knew of it, although he was intrigued by my earlier comments about criminal activities in the family. He told me that when he and my mother were dating, my mother applied for a job with the FBI, but she failed the background check! He was surprised then, but it's quite possible her father's background was not to the feds' liking.

2. In the 1920 federal census, the same grandfather (10 years old at the time) and his family were all listed as being Jewish! This would be a surprise if it was correct since my mother's mother, who married my grandfather, was Roman Catholic and when my mother married my father, his parents were Catholic/Lutheran, and my sister and I were raised Lutheran. My grandfather never went to church.

Subsequent censuses didn't reference any Jewish connection again. I wondered if possibly my grandfather was Jewish but given widespread anti-Jewish sentiment across Europe well before WWII if they just decided not to identify themselves as Jewish anymore, especially if they weren't especially religious. Or was it simply a clerical error, which seems quite possible given these censuses were all filled in by hand.

3. I was able to locate the old movie my dad remembered seeing where he recognized a German-American Bund camp he attended in New Jersey before the war. The spy movie is called The House on 92nd Street and I would like to buy it (just $8) so my dad and I can watch it together.

I am collecting a great deal of paperwork and handwritten notes that could be confusing to make sense of if I don't do something with them soon.

I need a better way to organize all my research findings. You can build a family tree on ancestry.com, but I don't want to be paying $200 a year forever. I need a way to create my own documentation to better organize my data and help make it easier to see where the gaps are. So I'm thinking I'll make an Excel spreadsheet, one tab per person, with individual cells for each key piece of info including name, DOB, known addresses, date of marriage, name of spouse, names, DOBs of siblings, date of death, military service, etc. etc. Many times I'm researching for something specific but I forget the birth date or death death of someone in the middle of it. I need handy reference sheets that organize all of that.

4. Another little puzzle is that in the 1927 Perth Amboy, NJ, city directory, it lists my grandfather (the same one referenced above) as living at a certain address in that city. In 1931, he is still listed there but this time with my grandmother's name next to his. Yet I know they married in 1933, so what gives?? I can't imagine my grandparents would live together before getting married. So this is something I'd like to spend more time on figuring it out.

This Sunday, my dad and I are driving down to New Jersey to check out 4 or 5 key addresses where my dad grew up and where my grandparents grew up before they married. I've already checked the addresses on Zillow and while the Philly addresses where my great grandparents lived still exist (built around 1900), many of the homes in Jersey have been razed and rebuilt.

I got quite a shock last night when I looked up my mother's parents house, of which I have many fond memories. I'd forgotten the street number but found it in an old address book I have. I found the listing with a photo and it's a totally different house. In fact, the whole street would be totally unrecognizable save for the fact there was an access road to a park alongside the house, and that is still there. But soon after my grandfather built that brick house, a huge ugly factory building was erected right behind it. It was always so ugly. But in the Zillow listing, it looks like it's totally gone! Maybe one reason why the current property is valued at $500,000! My grandfather's house was a one story, 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with a spare room and a huge Florida room.

So, yeah, this obsession may last for a while. As I learn more about my ancestors, they become more like real people to me, and it reminds me that the world does not revolve around Patient Saver, that many came before me and many will come after me. I am just a small cog in the wheel of life.

It also really reinforces how people were on the move in those days. Life must have been pretty hard for so many people to be willing to, in many cases, leave family and friends behind to cross continents in search of a better life.

You learn all this in school, but when you learn about it it in the context of your own family background, it becomes so much more meaningful.

Having been thru this experience I can see how homeschooling, a highly individualized method of teaching, could be so engaging.

It makes me feel like I wish I could have known them. Of my 4 grandparents, I only remember ever meeting relations of my mother's father, the one referenced above. All of my grandparents came from large families, but strangely, with a few exceptions, they mostly didn't keep in touch with siblings after they married...at least it didn't appear so to me.

Tomorrow the non-profit healthcare center people are coming to my house to peruse my mother's art and hopefully gratefully accept my selected donations. I am fully prepared to give them 25 or more pieces, including a lot of woven tapestries which seem to be of earlier vintage. I'm trying to clean the downstairs of the house so it looks presentable.

After my trip to Jersey with dad on Sunday, I've got next week off from work and I have a slew of things I want to do, including some maintenance work around the house, a matinee or two, maybe another trip with did to a rare waterfowl sanctuary in Litchfield County, planning for my tag sale next Saturday, and of course, more family tree research.

4 Responses to “My new obssession”

  1. Dido Says:

    Glad you are enjoying the new obsession, and I hope you really enjoy the week off from work!

  2. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    Sounds like you are learning a great deal!

  3. CB in the City Says:

    I was obsessed when I first got onto ancestry.com, too! I need to get back into it, as I still have the subscription.

  4. rob62521 Says:

    Fascinating...sure makes you wonder why he was in prison. It's interesting the secrets families keep. I had some relatives who married in secret and lived with their respective families for ten years...one kept the marriage license hidden behind a picture in the dining room. I asked why the secrecy and was told since his parents owned a neighborhood tavern, her parents didn't think they should marry. Funny since he was the only one at that time who had a college degree and worked for local industry, not at the tavern.

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