24 January 2006

How the Government Stole Their Identity

A century ago, Rosa Schneckelwicz bought tickets for passage to America for herself and her two children. The clerk filling out the passenger list spoke the same language she did and wrote her name as Schnecklewisz. Since spelling was a matter of fashion and changed over time, nobody much cared. The clerk wrote down the name and address of the person she was joining in the U.S., her husband, Itzig.

Rosa lands with her children at Ellis Island. She is asked by the official, who speaks only English, what her name is. Rosa thinks he is asking her what she had for lunch. The official hands her a piece of paper that gives her her new name: Weiner.

Rosa's husband comes to meet his family at the immigration station. She is so happy to see her dear Itzig after their long separation. "Don't call me Itzig," he says. "They did not like the name at Ellis Island so they changed it to Isaac." Rosa blinks and shows him the piece of paper with her new name. He is shocked. He had been given the name Shneck when he arrived last year because the official thought Schneckelwicz was too long. They go back to where the husband had been staying with his brother and discuss it with him. (When the brother had arrived three years ago, he had picked up the wrong piece of luggage at Ellis Island and been given the name O'Reilly when the official read the tags.)

But nothing can be done. There is that piece of paper that was given out at Ellis Island with their new names and it cannot be ignored. The husband lives out his life with the name Shneck and the children all grow up with the name Weiner. (The brother's children all go by O'Reilly.)

20 January 2006

The Roots of Poverty

Did you see Country Boys on Frontline a couple weeks ago? Since I saw it I find myself thinking about Chris and Cody and reading more on Appalachia. The PBS web site has some good articles and I've dug up others that show the history of poverty in the region and why it continues.

As the miniseries did, the records of the Johnson family make the general history personal. We can see the Appalachian themes of illiteracy, ecological exploitation, and internecine fighting played out within the Johnson family.

Randall's father was Noah Johnson. He was born in 1932, two years after the 1930 census. He bacame a mechanic and died at age 68. Here are his parents Eli and Eveline Johnson in 1930. Eli works in a sawmill and they rent their house for $5 a month. Eveline cannot read or write.

Going back to 1910 we find Eli as a son in the household of Daniel R. and Sarah Johnson. Daniel is a farmer and the couple are the parents of 13 children.

In 1932, Daniel Johnson shot and killed his daughter Tiny two days before she was to be brought to the penitentiary for killing her husband. Daniel's sons Eli and Charles testified for the prosecution but were said to have been drunk at the time of the shooting.

Abbott and Costello Part 2

I seem to have ruffled some feathers with my blog on Bud Abbott. Instead of relying on gossip and oft-repeated stories, I looked at the evidence. Some people have a hard time with that because it challenges their long-held beliefs.

As far as Bud goes, the evidence points to his not being Jewish. Notice I did not say proves. More evidence could tilt the matter another way.

While we wait for that, let's move on to some sleuthing for Costello.

Lou's ancestry is usually given as mostly Italian with some mixture of Irish and French for the rest. They say his name was originally Cristillo and one story is that he changed it to Costello to match the surname of Dolores Costello.

Let's look at the census to see what it says. Remember, census info is evidence and not fact. We need to remember that because we get different info from each census!

In 1930, Lou's last name is Cristillo, his father is from Italy and his mother's parents are born in New Jersey.

In 1920, the last name is Cristillo, father from Italy and mother's parents born in New Jersey and England.

Here's a surprise in 1910: the last name is Costello! Where did that come from? Dad is Italian and mom has the same ancestry as 1920. Mom's dad (Louis Rege) is in the same household, born in New Jersey, half Italian and half French. It appears that his children had two different mothers, one born in England and one in France.

So far we're pretty sure that Lou's dad is 100% Italian but his mom's ancestry is rather murky. So far we have France, England, and New Jersey as possible origins.

In 1900, Lou's mother (Ellen Rege, line 54) is 17 and living with her parents who have been married for 18 years, so the hypothesis of a stepmother appears to be wrong. Her father has the same ancestry as in 1910 but her mother is from Pennsylvania with Irish ancestry. This is completely different from what is in other census records but it matches what it says in Lou's biography written by his daughter and also what we find in 1880 (Mary Tuohy, line 17).

We still don't know for sure where the name Costello came from (why did it pop up in 1910?) but we do have a good idea of Lou's ancestry. Doing the math, I come up with 62.5% Italian, 25% Irish, and 12.5% French. A long trip to find the facts, but worth the ride.

14 January 2006

Shelly Winters Dies: Short Schrift

Shelly Winters was the one who said, "I'm not overweight. I'm just nine inches too short." Here she is, last one on the page in the 1930 Queens NY census, the daughter of Jonas and Rose Schrift.

10 January 2006

Happy Anniversary, Abbott and Costello

Well, I made that up. I have no idea when they met or first appeared together.

But making things up seems to be the norm for stuff about celebrities (or often one's own ancestors). Take a look at this forum posting about Bud Abbott's 1900 census entry. Now take a look at the actual census. Notice how the poster made stuff up, particularly "Religion Jewish." Religion has never appeared on a U.S. census.

Others on the same forum commented on how the grandmother had a "Jewish name." This is in reference to "Rivka" which is what the earlier poster made up as the grandmother's name in the 1900 census. The census actually says "Reyka," a misspelling by the census taker of Ricka, a common nickname for Fredericka.

Here is Bud's mother Rachel, grandmother Fredericka, and grandfather Alexander Fisher (after whom Bud Abbott was named) in the 1860 census. This was long before Northern and Eastern European Jews started coming to the U.S.

So was Bud Abbott Jewish? It does not look like it based on the census info. But here is more grist for the rumor mill: In 1950 Bud and his wife renewed their wedding vows in a Jewish ceremony. Why they did this is not clear. Not do I understand why nobody in the ceremony is wearing a yarmulka.

02 January 2006

Who Are Those Aging Baby Boomers?

A few weeks ago, Newsweek's cover had a lot of famous people born in 1946. But what about the not-so-famous? What happened to all those babies that are now turning 60?

I did a bit of research on a random few of the 442 Californians born January 1, 1946 to see how they turned out. Though they will probably never appear on the cover of a magazine, I'll bet they are more typical of the rest of us baby boomers.

  • Carol D. was widowed when her husband, a stained-glass craftsman and 13 years her senior, died last year. She has 5 children and 9 grandchildren and lives in Indiana.
  • James H. was married and divorced twice with two children by his first wife and one by his second. A Vietnam veteran, he got a college degree and worked in aerospace. He died in 2004.
  • Robert B. is a biologist for the National Park Service. Does not appear to have married.
  • Judith A. married when she was 18 and a couple months pregnant. Divorced then married again at 28 and had two more kids. The family moved three times since 1993, each time further out of town. The 1500-sq-ft house they live in now has doubled in value since they bought it in 2002.
  • Albert A. still lives in Watts not far from where he was born.
  • William E. is a descendant of early Fullerton pioneers and a professor of economics in Nevada. Married in 1968; two children.
  • Susan I. joined the convent and became a nun in 1964. Left the convent then married in 1975. Has three grown daughters, is a 3rd-grade teacher, and remains active in the Church.
  • Eric V. was married at one time but no evidence that he had children or that he is still married. Software engineer in Arizona.
  • Rand T. married in 1968 and had a handful of children. Served in Vietnam. Went to law school and practices law in upstate New York. Runs marathons and skis.
  • Victoria M. married in 1971. They have 3 sons and live in a newer subdivision of compact homes on the outskirts of a small town in an agricultural area of California.
  • Melvin A. moved as a child with his family to Pennsylvania. A math whiz in school; enlisted in the army right after high school, later got a science degree from Pitt. Owned an art gallery in Pennsylvania and was a management consultant in Palm Beach, Fla. Never married. Died in 1979.
  • David S. married in 1968 and has two daughters, one of whom was selected Miss Anaheim while she was attending college. He has lived in the same middle-class Hispanic neighborhood for over 30 years.
  • Lyndell G. earned a Ph.D. in education and has had two apparently short-lived marriages. One when she was 21 and the second, to a high school teacher, when she was 39. She has lived in Washington, D.C. where she was a college professor, in Eastern Europe where she headed a foundation to support rural development, and currently in central California where she runs a ranch.
  • James S. married in 1967 and has two sons. Earned a law degree from Notre Dame; admitted to the state bar in 1975; suspended in 2000; resigned in 2001. Gave $100 to Bush-Cheney in 2004.
  • William H. was killed in action in Vietnam in 1967.
  • Mary G., of Greek heritage, married in 1967 a man she met while attending UC Santa Barbara, a native Californian of Japanese heritage. She is a licensed psytherapist working on her Ph. D. in psychology and the chairman of the board of an outreach ministry. She and her husband give their time and money to causes such as wildlife protection and religious education.
  • Twelve of the babies born in California on January 1, 1946, died before they were 3 months old.

While most boomers would not be considered remarkable, the fact that one can find out so much about them on the Internet certainly is.