The calendar reminder today, October 15, is rather precise. My grandmother would have been 114 today.
So it’s one of the reasons I love and miss her stories, is that she never knew for sure the exact day of her birth. How is that possible?
Things were rather different in 1905, in urban Newark, New Jersey. As she told me the story (again) in 1994, she was delivered by a midwife and there was no paperwork.
What she left out here, but what I remember is that when they found the census records of 1910, it recorded a child with her name that was five years old. But no birthdate. An older sibling remembered it as October, so when she was able to file for a birth certificate based on the census data, she was left with the option to choose a date. “October 15 sounded like a good day” I recall her saying, with that distinct laugh.
Imagine having no exact record of when you were born? Her parents, David and Eva, were Hungarian immigrants with 7 kids (she was 6th). Her mom died when Grandma was young.
Thinking about her around this time I was curious about these census records. They should be easy to find, right? It’s US Data.
Well almost, to actually see the records, I needed to access them via Ancestry.com, a fee based service. I went in yesterday with a 2 week trial account, so I am getting as much info as I can.
And it was easy to locate a record for her father in the 1910 census via a search on David Gottfried using hs wife’s name and a home in Newark. Wow, here is the record:
From what I might envision, the census taker Joseph Bravelow (sp?) in April 1910 was knocking on doors in the neighborhood and collecting data.
There are interesting columns. It lists place of birth, my great grandparents were definitely born in Hungary and are listed as”Hungary/Yiddish” (why is Yiddish added?). The five older kids were born in New York, while the younger two, my grandmother and her sister Florence, were born in New Jersey. I did not remember my great grandparents having lived in New York.
It’s also noteworthy that my grandmother is listed as “Jennie”, not Jeannette. April 15, 1910 was a Friday– likely her father was at work, so the person providing the information was his wife or one of the kids? No birth years are listed for the kids, only the parents.
Her parents were listed as having immigrated in 1891, but only her father is listed as Naturalized. His occupation is listed as “Cigars” which matches grandma’s story that he worked in a cigar factors. The parents and 3 oldest kids (age 14, 13, 11) are listed as able to read and write. There are some questions about whether the person listed is a survivor of the Civil War, if they are blind, deaf or dumb (there seem to be codes entered).
That was information collected by the Government. And it was enough to get Grandma a birth certificate later in life and to pick a birthday.
I did find that her mother died in 1918, when Grandma would have been 13. It even gave a location of her grave at Grove Street Cemetery in Newark, with a location number, but I could not find it in the Find a Grave sites.
But here is something I found while looking for maps of Newark in this time period, and it’s a bit chilling. In 1911 a map was made of Newark with boxes around neighborhoods- mapping ethnicity and race (likely drawn from the 1910 census data?).
Before there was redlining in Newark is clearly ethnic lining. For what purpose?
I found one of the addresses listed for David Gottfried in the 1915 State Census (the location on Google Streetview is now a school). It takes a bit of rotating the map above, but matching the major road in the map above trending southwest as Springfield Avenue, and the other one more westerly as East Orange Ave, the place my grandmother’s family lived is definitely inside the “Jews” box.
This is definitely not what I thought I would find when researching this story of my grandmother’s nebulous date of birth. I am sure she could fill in more details to what the era was like here. I sure miss those stories.
Happy birthday, regardless, Granny, whether you were Jennie, Jeanette, or Janet.
Featured Image: Personal photo of my grandmother and I, her in full energy vigor, around 1994, likely the time of recording her audio stories.