The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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April 22, 2012


In all the biographies I read, I'm fascinated by the research goes into them. I read the acknowledgements, and the bibliographies, and even the footnotes sometimes, possibly because I've always harbored a secret wish to do the work that they do.

Our friend Donna told us about the newly-released 1940 U.S. Census, and that she found her mother's family listed there. It's a very interesting puzzle.  You're essentially looking through, and looking at, scans of the actual, handwritten census documents.  You can't search by name, only by 'enumeration district.'  So, you need to know where, or approximately where, your family members lived, and the more that you know, down to the street address and even the block, the easier it is to narrow down your search. 

Do you remember Kojak?  At the beginning of the show, there was a shot of his police station, and the one that they used was on East 5th Street in Manhattan. {Apparently, they use it for Castle, too; I keep meaning to look}. I know this because my dad grew up in the building next door.  There was a little bit of an alleyway between the police station and the apartment building, and my dad and my uncle Jerry would stick their heads out the window in hopes that a policeman would call up and send them on an errand (two hot dogs for the officer and one for the boys).  Knowing that (my father loves both parts of that story) helped me pinpoint the block that they lived on, and to eventually, after nine or ten tries, find them in ED 31-684 ('A diagonal line from the intersection of E. 5th and 2nd Ave. northeasterly to the intersection of E. 6th and 1st Ave., 1st Ave., E. 5th').

And suddenly, there they were. It gave me a little shiver.  My grandfather William and my grandmother Tessie, in their early forties, my Godmother, Kashie (Kathryn, spelled wrong), my Aunt Anna, my Godfather, Uncle Jerry, and my dad, the youngest, 11 years old and in sixth grade. My grandparents were born in the Ukraine, but when it was part of Poland. Babi married when she was 20, their rent was $22 a month, and Pop was working as a counterman in a restaurant. And the census taker with the elegant handwriting got to see them, or some of them, back then. I wish I had!

Off to find Mom, next.


Lisa May said...

I know this thrill so well! I found my grandmother in the Ellis Island records, when she emigrated in the 1920s. They have a great database on their site.

Bellezza said...

I love handwritten records such as you've described. They're not exactly the easiest to peruse, not when we have 'wonderful' (cough) technology which can find things in an instant, but they give us a wonderful sense of time. Of meaning. Of the world when it was a slower pace. I loved pouring over the records from the days my father was in the Chicago Stockyards...pages and pages in the ledger of accounts received, in faded brown fountain pen ink and a gorgeous, neat hand...Can a computer do that?!

Vintage Reading said...

How wonderful to find records of your relatives. I do love old handwritten records. I'd like to research my own family history but I think it will have to wait until I retire!

Thank you for visiting!

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