Thursday, September 21, 2006

Taking Inventory - 1930 Census

Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau goes door to door and attempts to count every nose in America.  They have been doing this since 1790, collecting a variety of interesting data about the people it finds.  They have a policy of not releasing the actual census records until 72 years have passed.  So, the last records made public were the results of the 1930 census. 

While the Census Bureau does not have data online, they do sell and rent microfilm versions of this data to companies and individuals.  One company,, has taken on the task of transcripting and indexing the data and placing the actual census sheet images online.  This makes a superb genealogical search tool for people looking to trace family in the United States.  Of course you must pay a price for being able to use this service. does offer a 14-day free trial which I tried and spent countless hours extracting what I could and then cancelling at the last minute.  I will go back and pay the fee when I have more fine tuned research questions to ask.

So where was the Dershewitz family in 1930?  They were fairly easy to find since the surname was listed as it is spelled today.   The census page image yields quite a bit of information.

  • The census information was taken at 2136 Honeywell Ave.  They were paying $40 a month rent (cheapest on the page).
  • Here's who was living there:
    • Solomon (age 42 - Head)
    • Gertrude (age 38 - Wife)
    • Estelle (age 17)
    • Jacob (age 15)
    • Adolf (age 14)
    • Louis (age 12)
    • Bella (age 11)
    • Helen (age 10)
    • Issac Singer (age listed as 67 but may be wrong, Gertrude's father)
    • Rose Singer (age listed as 63 but may be wrong, Gertrude's mother)
  • Ellis Island records show both Issac (Isaak) and Rose (Rozalia) as 61 in 1921 which would make them about 70 in 1930.
  • Age at marriage columns shows the Solomon and Gertrude were married around 1910 in Poland.
  • Solomon was employed in or owned a delicatessen and Estelle had a clerical job in a bank.  No other jobs listed.
  • All were listed as being able to speak English except Rose Singer
  • All were listed as naturalized aliens except Isaac and Rose Singer
  • The oldest daughter, Gert, was not in the household at this time.
  • You can see that the children had taken on americanized versions of their first names.  My father was going by Adolf at that time but was legally Abraham.

It must have been a rough time right after the stock market crash and the beginning of the great depression.  At least the prohibition years were about to end although I heard stories of the Dershewitz children mixing up alcohol in the bathtub for Dutch Schulz during those rowdy times.  We'll see what other stories we can get out of the family members.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ellis Island - Coming to America

Like most immigrants to the United States in the late part of the 19th and early 20th century, the Dershewitz family arrived at and was processed through [EllisIsland].  Finding the family's Ellis Island record was the breakthrough I needed to go further back into the family history.  It doesn't really tell of why they left Poland, the hardships they faced on the trip over and what it was like actually passing through Ellis Island and into their new life in this country.  We'll have to wait for family memories to fill in the blanks.

The immigration records were ledger size so the scanned images are on two pages.  Thankfully, the immigration official typed most of the entries so they are very legible.  I have looked through many pages and handwritten entries while quaint can be very difficult to decipher.  Anyhow, here are the clues that I could glean from these records:

  • The Dershewitz family members are listed on lines 6-14 on the immigration manifest for the ship Saxonia that arrived on April 10, 1921.  The surname was spelled Dereszewitz.
    • Solomon (Father age 37)
    • Gita        Gertrude (Wife age 34)
    • Gita        Gert       (daughter age 10)
    • Ester      Estelle    (daughter age 8)
    • Jacob     Jack       (son age 6)
    • Abram    Adolf       (son age 4)
    • Juda       Louis      (son age 3)
    • Beila      Bella       (daughter age 2)
    • Hema     Helen      (daughter age 6 months)
  • Last permanent residence was listed as Sharyszoats while place of birth was listed as Staryshoutz.  This is probably the modern day Stary Sacz, Poland.
  • Name of nearest relative in Poland is listed as J. Deresziwitz of Sharyzoats parent of Solomon and Gita and grandparents to the children.
  • Family sponsor was Louis Singer, 286 Fort Washington Ave, N.Y.  He was the brother of Gertrude Singer, Solomon's wife.
  • Both Solomon and Gertrude were listed as being 5 feet 5 inches tall.
  • There was also a Fradli Bodner, age 24, travelling with the family.  She was a cousin of Louis Singer, a bookeeper, spoke Polish and German and listed her last place of residence as Nawyshoutz,  probably the modern day Nowy Sacz, Poland.  She also listed her nearest relative as sister Sonia?? Bodner.
  • Gertrude Singer's parents, Isaac and Rose also came to America on the same ship but were listed separately from the Dershewitz family.  More on them later.

Well that's what I could glean out of the Ellis Island records.  Now to follow other leads.....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Start of the Search

I guess I'm the type of person that lives for the day and leans toward the future.  I hadn't spent much time looking back beyond my own life.  At times, however, I would wonder where I came from, how am I the product of the generations that came before me?  For the last several years, probably since the deaths of my father and mother, I have thought of beginning a quest to discover my roots.  It's ironic that I didn't ask the people who could help me the most while they were still alive.

My father never really talked about the past.  He was a quiet kind of guy and kept most things to himself.  I know he was born in Poland, Krakow he said, but other than that not much was ever told and I didn't ask.  It was the same for living in New York, serving in WWII and moving to California.  I just wasn't interested enough at the time and didn't ask.  Since my family lived in Los Angeles, California we were separated from the bulk of the Dershewitz family that lived in New York.  Growing up I had very little contact with the rest of the extended family.  Only rare trips back East (last one in 1960) and rare visitors out west brought us together.

I knew my father's family came through Ellis Island.  When the immigration records became available online I tried many times to find when the Dershewitz family started their life in America.  This search was fruitless until earlier this year.  I know names, especially foreign names, can get mis-spelled or changed in a variety of different ways.  My family name is the rule rather than an exception.  The Ellis Island records have been transcribed from the original immigration or ships manifests.  Key data was put in a database and indexed back to the actual manifest page/line the name was found on.  This way it's fairly easy to search in a variety of ways and finally get back to the original documentation. NOT!!  Only if your ancestors spoke English and had very well known names.  For those of us not so fortunate, any manner of errors could occur.  My ancestors did not speak English, the immigration official probably wrote/spelled what he heard.  If the immigration people had bad hand writing more errors could be introduced in the transcription.  Also, first names were likely to be the pre-Americanized  versions that were used in the country of origin.

Anyhow, after many attempts I finally made the breakthrough.  I found Solomon Dereszewitz, wife Gita, 7 children and a cousin all listed as a group starting on line 6 of page 0222.  They arrived in America April 20, 1921 aboard the ship Saxonia from Cherbourg, France.