My Italian grandfather, Lou Ventura, was the easiest of my four grandparents to find in the 1930 census.
My other family lines had name changes, missing years, countries and hometowns I could never pronounce and that didn’t seem to remain the same over the course of any two decades. They had elusive documents I could never find, immigration dates and spouses that were always in flux.
Lou, though, was easy. It only took me two years to find him (I’m at seven years and counting on another grandparent). The delay was caused by a simple spelling error of the census taker in 1930.
In the five years since my discovery of Lou in 1930, I’ve also found his naturalization record, which included his birth date, when and where he and his first wife married, his hometown, an old photo, and his signature, which I recognized from birthday cards he’d sent when I was a kid. And I found his address, which led me to a current photo of the apartment house in which my mom was born, a place even she wasn’t aware of.
I totally knew everything about this guy. Except for why he wasn’t showing up in New York in 1940.
New York, New York – it’s a wonderful town.
There are benefits to having family that spent time in a large city like New York. You can easily learn more about New York via history books (try to find something written about the town I live in now — it’s all of 1,000 people, as large as it’s ever been). And you’re always just an e-mail, message board or phone call away from someone else who is researching the same ethnic group in the same community.
In this case, I found a coworker who was doing a bit of New York research herself. I told her I was sure Lou must have been living in New Jersey or working as a merchant marine in 1940. That’ when this coworker offered her help. I sent her a few details about Lou and waited for her to confirm he wasn’t there.
But she didn’t. Instead, she had the nerve to find him for me. And when I looked at his 1940 census record, I realized that Lou, once again, had fallen victim to a census taker who couldn’t spell his name.
I learned a lot from that record – Lou was living as a lodger on West 30th Street, he was still married, although the scratch marks make me wonder how accurate this is. I learned he had three years of high school, was working on the electric railroad, which I assume means streetcars.
But mostly I learned that I should have learned my lesson from 1930. I should have thought to change a few of the vowels in Lou’s last name.
Next time. I promise.
— Jeanie Croasmun