Saturday, December 9, 2017

Was Hubby's Memory Correct? How I Did the Research

Earlier this year, I wrote a family history booklet telling the story of my husband's Slatter and Wood families, and a second booklet telling the story of his McClure and Steiner families.

For the holidays, I'm preparing a briefer family history booklet, focused on the Wood family in World War II. I want to show the younger generation how the family's history is intertwined with local, national, and world history. So I'm writing about Edgar James Wood and his wife, Marian Jane McClure Wood, and their children (hubby included), during the 1940s.

First, I asked my husband and his siblings about their memories of that period. Although he was very young, hubby distinctly remembers the family sitting around the console radio on Sunday, the 7th of December, and hearing the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.* It's vivid in his mind because his parents were so upset by the news. And he remembers this happening in the living room of the family home at 1142 Cleveland Heights Blvd. in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Was hubby's memory correct? I wondered because I had these facts at hand (and mapped the addresses as shown above):
  • At the time of the 1940 Census, the Wood family lived at 13015 Edmondton Ave. in Cleveland. This was a $45/month rental, several blocks away from where Marian's parents lived.
  • In late November, 1942, the Wood family signed an agreement to purchase the Cleveland Heights Blvd. house. This was a few miles east of the rental where they lived in 1940.
  • Edgar Wood had told his son, during a 1983 interview, about giving up the rental and buying the home--but he never specified any dates.

To find out whether the Wood family actually lived on Cleveland Heights Blvd. in December, 1941, I needed another source--something from after the Census and before the purchase of the house on Cleveland Heights Blvd.

Lucky, lucky me. I dug deep into Ancestry's city directory catalog and found it has the 1941 Cleveland city directory!

Browsing the directory by street address, I checked who was living at the Edmondton Ave. address. The entry for that address showed as "vacant." The Wood family was NOT living there in 1941.

Then I checked who was living at the Cleveland Heights Blvd. address. And as you can see at left, the occupant was "Wood, Edgar J." In other words, my wonderful husband's memory was completely correct. He and his family had moved into their home by the time of Pearl Harbor.

This prompted me to reread the 1983 interview with my late father-in-law. He said he had been notified that his rental on Edmonton Ave. was going to be sold. So he and his wife Marian went shopping for a home, but he didn't mention any dates.

A realtor showed them the Cleveland Heights Blvd home, which had stood empty for a few years due to the Depression. Ed and Marian liked it but could only afford it if they began paying on a "land contract," with monthly payments going toward a downpayment qualifying them for a mortgage.

He stated that within about a year, they had paid in enough to obtain a regular mortgage and register the deed, which is dated late November, 1942. This was more confirmation of what the directory entries indicate: the family moved in before December, 1941.

Writing this family story about WWII forced me to double-check memories against the city directory and another family member's memories. In the process, I gained a better understanding of the family's financial situation during that time. And, of course, hubby's family will have yet another colorful booklet to enjoy, complete with maps and photos and sources, before the new year begins.

*If you want to hear some radio broadcasts from that day, check out the Internet Archive here.


  1. What a clever idea about checking the directories by location. I didn't even know you could do that. You are such a good detective!!

  2. Debbie, I knew some directories had street address entries, but it was a thrill to find out that Cleveland had them in 1941. Lucky me! It was easier to look up the addresses because I knew them, and I could then be sure that the old address was actually vacant (or might have been another renter there) AND that the new address was where the family was living in that year. Love those old directories.

  3. Lucky you, Marian, to have the memories as corroboration of what you found in the directory. I know you were using the directories as corroboration but in my family the directories would be the only information (since I come from a long line of family members who don't share memories). I'm sure the people in yours and your husband's families love the booklets you make. What treasures they are -- and will be to future generations.

  4. My daughter told me she read that there are two reasons you remember something when you were young. There is a photo of it, or there was an extreme emotion attached to it. Interesting that your husband remembered something when he was so young, probably because his parents were so emotional about it which he internalized.

  5. Nancy and Jacquie, thank you for reading and leaving me your comments. I'm lucky enough to have two hour-long interviews my husband recorded with my late father-in-law, which gives us his firsthand views of his childhood and then how he met my late mom-in-law. Not everything is accurate (he was in his 80s when he recorded) but the content helps fill in some gaps. And I agree with Jacquie that emotions must have been running high on December 7th, which is why my hubby remembers that evening so clearly.

  6. Marian, Sometimes, a bit of creativity is needed and you supplied it. All the facts fit. What a great job verifying the facts. :)

  7. City directories are just great for researching ancestors who lived in urban areas. You've given great examples of combining directory addresses with a map to learn more about your ancestors.