Archive for December, 2008

I’ve been spending way too much time poking around online looking at census data. Yes, after 72 years that stuff you filled out is released to the public. It’s actually pretty cool and it encourages me to actually pay attention next time the census comes around.

After I got done finding my grandparents, great-grandparents and all their siblings and spouses in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census data, I started looking around at other things. It took some work but I found both streets we’ve lived on in San Francisco, the only place I’ve lived where old buildings are everywhere.

I found our current apartment in the 1920 census. I was not able to locate it in 1930 but I found the records for others in the same building. I can’t figure out how to locate the right area of the city in the 1910 census, so I don’t know anything from then.

In 1920, Hugh Haffey, his wife and their adult children lived here. Hugh’s occupation was noted as a “Watchman”, one son worked at a laundry, another was an elevator operator and a daughter also worked at a laundry.

Most of the households I found in this building for both 1920 and 1930 were couples with children, as many as five. All were renters. In 1930, apartments in this building rented for $27-30 a month.

Our apartment is about 700 square feet, with a large kitchen and dining room, a modest bedroom and a large parlor. There are also two closets in addition to the bathroom. We use the parlor as a bedroom and the bedroom as a computer room. The dining room is what would now be considered a living room (although I use it as a work area mainly.) There is no fireplace and the building has no garage or driveway.

Now every family wants to have one bedroom per child plus multiple eating, sitting and working areas so modern houses are huge. Much larger than I’d prefer, actually. (Who wants to heat and clean, not to mention furnish, 6000 square feet?) But from what I can tell this was a average family dwelling for those of modest means. Not spectacular, but not horrible either.

Several years ago I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York, one of the apartments on the tour was about 350 square feet and housed a large family plus a home dressmaking business, with a shared toilet in the hall. Another person on the tour humorously commented that add a coat of paint and it looked like some of the several thousand dollar Manhattan apartments he’d been shopping for.

I’ve been researching various parts of my family, with the end goal of submitting an application for Italian citizenship. We’ll see how that goes. At any rate, looking at old documents is interesting. It’s amazing how many different ways a census enumerator can mis-spell a name.

My grandmother shows up in various sources three different ways, none of them her actual given name (as it seems nobody used it.) Since the census doesn’t require any formal documentation, they take whatever you give them. I’m thinking it’s the same with Social Security as well, because they don’t have her birth name either. Oh, and Social Security tends to list the actual place of death (like a hospital) and states seem to use last place of residence instead.

Interesting things turn up. I remember a carved ashtray stand my father said was made by his uncle. In the 1930 census, I found an uncle with the occupation of woodcarver in the furniture industry. His brother, my grandfather, worked in a radio factory.

I vaguely recall a name mentioned in my youth that I thought was my great-grandfather. It seems I didn’t quite get it right, as it instead was his wife. Who lived much longer and remarried. At some point the whole family moved to New York, down the street from the girl who would become my grandmother. There were several documents that at first seemed doubtful because of name or date problems, but I was certain as soon as I looked at the actual artifact image and saw the address. For example, the eldest Laiosa girl of the 1920 census was, ten years later, found a few doors down living with her new husband and his father.

I have an image of the ship’s passenger manifest where my maternal great-grandfather came to New York, with a woman who may have been his sister. What happened to Maria Grazia Laiosa I may never know. Perhaps his single still living child (now 89) may remember, but then again not. I sent my father a copy of Giovanni’s draft registration and naturalization petition cards to give to her.

There are other observations on the nature of public record repositories. The state of Ohio started collecting birth records at the state level somewhere in the middle of 1908. I know this because I have to try several different agencies in attempt to locate my grandfather’s birth certificate. My first go didn’t do so well, so I’ve submitted a request for his elder brother for whom I have a more certain place of birth. Also the fees for copies of records appears to be arbitrary. New York City is hideously expensive and Columbiana County Ohio will do it for a self-addressed stamped envelope and the cost of the copy machine.

And then there is my mother’s family. In the 1930 census I found the household of my grandparents including my uncle, not a year old. But listed as my grandfather’s parents were two people I’d never heard of and my aunt says were related in some mysterious fashion. Four adults, two parents and two “sons” came to the United States from Eastern Europe, possibly at different times and with a collection of different names given to different officials. I don’t think anybody alive now knows exactly how these people are related.

If I’m going to go much farther, I’ll have to start getting documents. It will likely be less expensive to just go to New York and park myself in front of the microfilm reader than pay the search and copy fees trying to locate the right things. Fortunately my Italian family didn’t move far from Brooklyn for many years.