Wednesday, January 29, 2020

1950 Census Question: Where Were You Born, Eh?

Excerpt from "The 1950 Censuses--How They Were Taken"

For the 1950 Census, enumerators were asked to write down the state or foreign country where each individual was born.

Sounds straightforward until you consider how many people living in the United States were born in places where boundaries or names had changed by the time of the Census.

No More Austria-Hungary

Both of my maternal grandparents were born in part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In April of 1950, however, that entity no longer existed. As the instructions above indicate, if an enumerator had written "Austria-Hungary," the people coding the answers for tabulation were to change the entry.

They were given lists of surnames common to the 1950-era countries of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Where necessary, the coders consulted the surname lists and changed the "where born" answer to replace any "Austria-Hungary" answers. I'll be very interested to see what my grandparents answered when the 1950 Census is released in 2022!

Oh, Canada!

I was surprised to read that people born in Canada would be enumerated in one of two ways. If they spoke French when arriving in America, their birthplace would be listed as "Canada-French." If they weren't French-speaking when they came to America, the birthplace would be "Canada-other."

Fine print: What if the enumerator wrote only "Canada" as an individual's birthplace? The coders were provided a list of so-called "typical French-Canadian surnames." Then they replaced a birthplace of "Canada" with "Canada-French" if the individual's surname was on that list or "Canada-other" if the surname was not on the list.

See below for full listing of countries to be coded from enumerated Census pages. Eye-opening, isn't it?! I was especially struck by the list of "all other" at bottom right.

For more about the 1950 Census, please see my summary page here.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Reading the Fine Print for 1950 US Census Procedures

Procedure for enumerating the 1950 US Census

The 1950 Census will have a treasure trove of details to clarify the lives of our ancestors. Even though the release of these records is still more than two years away, I'm reading instructions and procedures to see what's new and different in the questions and answers. What stands out to me are the assumptions made by Census officials in interpreting answers and non-answers.

Mar, Nev, Sep, Wd, or D? 

I'm especially excited about the innovation of recording "never married" as one alternative when enumerating marital status (see excerpt at top of this post). This new answer alternative debuted in the 1950 Census (according to procedures, downloadable from this page of the Department of Commerce).

In the past, enumerators noted if an individual was married, single, widowed, or (sometimes) divorced. These categories were clues that could send me looking for a marriage license or a spouse's death cert or even a divorce record. More than once, my ancestors lied about being married or widowed when they were actually (gasp!) separated or divorced, I later learned through painstaking research.

It's different with "nev," which suggests no need to look for these types of records. I might take a cursory look, but not a deep dive if someone is listed as never married and I have little reason to doubt that status.

At the very least, seeing "nev" next to a name could add weight to other clues indicating this ancestor was single (like a great aunt who was always listed as "S" on every Census).

Just an S? Check the Assumptions!

More detail about 1950 enumeration of marital status for individuals

Sometimes enumerators who had worked in previous Census periods didn't consistently use the new abbreviations for 1950. Above, an excerpt from the procedures explaining that if an individual had "S" next to his or her name, inspectors double-checked to see how that enumerator used S on previous entries.

Officials also looked at the composition of that household to see whether children and a possible spouse were present, and code accordingly. If no children were enumerated in the household, this individual would be coded as "never married." These are interesting and not necessarily correct assumptions, that could cause confusion for genealogists 72 years in the future (meaning us in 2022)!

Note that individuals over the age of 55 with no spouse in the household were to be listed as "widowed" in the absence of any other marital status being enumerated. Again, an assumption based on that time and place in history--but not necessarily accurate for specific ancestors.

With so many months to prep for the 1950 Census release, it makes sense to skim the instructions and get a sense of how we should interpret the answers when revealed in April, 2022. For more about the 1950 Census, please see my summary page here.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

So Far Away But Hearts Remain Close

Schwartz Siblings in Ungvar, Hungary
My maternal Grandpa Theodore (Tivador) Schwartz (1887-1965) left many siblings at home in Hungary when he departed for America in March, 1902. His older brother Samuel Schwartz (1883-1954) arrived in America in 1904. Together, they saved money and sent for a younger sister, Mary Schwartz Wirtschafter (1891-1959), who arrived in New York late in 1906.

Despite being thousands of miles apart, the siblings who came to America and the siblings who remained in their home town of Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine) kept in touch via photos and photo postcards. I inherited images of babies, couples, and siblings in various combinations, sent from Hungary to show that the three American siblings were still in the hearts of those who remained at home.

Portrait from Ungvar, 1915

Above, a photo postcard showing three sisters and possibly a younger brother who remained in Ungvar, the hometown of the Schwartz family. On the reverse is written the date, 1915, and the place name. This was sent to my Grandpa 105 years ago. (To keep it in good condition, I keep it in an acid-free photo sleeve inside an archival box.)

Not long ago, "Sherlock" Ava Cohn posted a photo showing men in the uniforms of the Austro-Hungarian army, circa 1915-16. The uniforms are just like the one worn by the young man in the photo above, confirming that the date on the photo is correct.

Was this young man, possibly my great uncle, sent into combat for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I? Did he survive, if he battled on the front lines? Wish we knew.

The American Siblings in WWI

During World War I, American men had to register with their local draft boards. Since my Grandpa was 30 years old when he registered with the NYC draft board in 1917, married with a young son, he was never called to serve.

Theodore Schwartz's WWI draft card
Great-uncle Sam Schwartz was 35 and married with two young children when he registered with the NYC draft board in 1918. He was never called for military duty.

Mary Schwartz Wirtschafter's husband Edward was 28 and had an infant son when he registered with the NYC draft board in 1917. So he never served, either.

Despite the war, correspondence between siblings in Hungary and siblings in America continued, judging by the dated photos I inherited.

The Aftermath of World War II

My mother believed that her father, my Grandpa, never heard from his family in Hungary again after WWII. It turns out this was NOT the whole story.

One of Grandpa's teenaged nieces survived Auschwitz. Happily, I was able to connect with this part of the family because of Yad Vashem, where she had submitted written testimony and a photo of her mother--a photo I recognized as one of my Grandpa's sisters.

Her emotional video testimony housed at the USC Shoah Foundation includes many harrowing, horrific stories of the Holocaust. She tells of how her mother and the other Schwartz family members were rounded up and murdered. She managed to live through it all.

After the war, she returned to her hometown of Ungvar, married, and brought up two children in what was then the USSR. The family applied for permission to move to Israel several times. Their requests were denied and delayed for years, but ultimately they gained official approval and went to Israel, where they made a new life.

After WWII, this niece again corresponded with her uncle Theodore (my Grandpa) and her aunt Mary, relatives in America she knew only through letters and photos. A few years after I located this cousin in Israel, thanks to her testimony, my Sis visited and met that entire family. We're still in touch today.

Hearts remain close even when family is so far away.

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, it is also the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Never forget.


"So far away" is the week 5 prompt for Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Close to Home But Far Enough Away

Draft card for Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978)
My Dad, Harold Burk (1909-1978), registered for the draft on 16 October 1940. This was only 30 days after the implementation of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. He didn't actually enlist in the US Army until early 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor.

On the 1940 draft card, Harold listed his home address as 3905 Carpenter Avenue, Bronx, New York. But that's not where he was enumerated in the 1940 Census, just six months earlier.

Moving Out But Staying Close to Home

On April 4, 1940, Harold was listed as living with his parents and younger brother at 3044 Valentine Avenue, Bronx, New York. His Mom told the Census that they all lived in the same place in 1935. (I know she answered the questions because there's a small x inside a circle next to her name on the handwritten forms.) In fact, both parents stayed at this address for several more years.

Sometime in the six months following Census Day, Harold moved out of his parents' apartment and into an apartment on Carpenter Avenue. The two apartment buildings are about three miles from each other--close enough for son and parents to easily visit one another but far enough away for separate lives.

I don't know for sure whether Harold's younger brother Sidney Burk (1914-1995) moved out with him to share the brand-new apartment. My guess is he did--he was in his mid-twenties and both were working at steady jobs.

Another guess is that Harold and Sidney chose this apartment building because their older sister (Mildred Burk Lang, 1907-1993) was moving there with her husband. Millie and family weren't at this address in the 1940 Bronx phone directory--but of course, directories are prepared well in advance, much earlier than October. I'm currently looking for Millie's husband's draft card to see what address he listed, and when.

Built in 1940 or 1941?

In researching 3905 Carpenter Avenue, where Harold said he was living in October, 1940, I checked the New York City Department of Records Tax Photo Archive. I was hoping to find a photo of the building when it was just constructed.

However, according to the tax records, as shown at right, this building was built in 1941. Most likely (I'm guessing) this is a quirk of the tax records and the apartment building was declared built "as of 1941" or "at the start of 1941." In either case, no photo, and another guess at this point.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this week 4 prompt in the #52Ancestors series.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Where Were Ancestors in 1950 Census?

Randy Seaver and I are on the same wavelength this week, with the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun focusing on the 1950 US Census! I've been digging into the details of the 1950 Census, so I'll be ready to find ancestors by location when the records are released in April, 2022.

Randy's challenge: Who in your ancestral families will be in the 1950 census?  Where will they be residing,  What occupations will they have?  The official "date" was 1 April 1950.

Maternal Ancestors in 1950 Census

Grandma Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Grandpa Theodore Schwartz will be living on 180th Street in the Bronx, NY, having moved from their long-time apartment on Beck Street soon after World War II ended. He will still be a dairy grocer, but not for long--his retirement came early in the 1950s!

Their twins, Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, had already left home by this time. Daisy (hi Mom!) married Harold Burk (hi Dad!) and they were living in an apartment building on Carpenter Avenue in the Bronx, NY. The apartment building full of paternal ancestors, as noted below. Daisy was a homemaker and Dad was a travel agent.

Dorothy Schwartz (hi Auntie!) was somewhere in the Bronx, soon to move to Hackensack, NJ, with her partner, Lee Wallace. Dorothy was working for Macy's, I believe, where she met Lee, head of publicity/special events and leader of the Thanksgiving Day Parade for many years.

Daisy and Dorothy's older brother lived in Brooklyn, a high school teacher in 1950. His wife later became head of guidance for all of New York City's public schools. Their two children will both be enumerated in the 1950 Census.

Grandpa's brother, Sam Schwartz, was living in Queens, NY, also a dairy grocer. This is where I'll learn whether he had already married his second wife, Margaret. My guess is yes, they were already married by this time (his first wife, Anna Gelbman, died in 1940).

Grandpa's sister, Mary Schwartz Wirtschafter, was most likely living with her furrier husband, Edward Wirtschafter, in their home in Mount Vernon, NY. There's a small possibility they were elsewhere, since their daughter remembered them taking an apartment in the Bronx at some point.

Many of Grandma's Farkas siblings lived in the New York area and I'll be able to find them easily, thanks to the Farkas Family Tree minutes and letters I've indexed for quick reference.

Paternal Ancestors in 1950 Census

Great-grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler was living in the Bronx on Marmion Ave., where I believe she stayed until her death in 1952. This is the ancestor who was either 99 or 100 when she died. The Census might give me a solid clue about her age...

Tillie's daughter Dora lived with her at this time. Dora, tall and thin, had been in millinery sales but retired early due to a chronic health condition (heart?). She died just a few months after this Census was taken.

My paternal grandma was Tillie's daughter Henrietta Mahler Burk (hi Gran!). Henrietta's husband Isaac Burk had died years earlier, so I'm going to be interested to see whether Grandma Henrietta was still on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx, where they were living when Isaac died in the 1940s. More likely she will be found in the same apartment Bronx building as her son Harold (hi Dad) and daughter-in-law Daisy (hi Mom) AND her younger son Sidney Burk and older daughter Mildred Burk Lang. Lots of family in one apartment building, the building where I was brought up.

I'll be able to locate all of Tillie's other living children, I think, because I'm in touch with 2d cousins who are their descendants. One daughter married and went to California. A son worked as a handyman in Hollywood and lived in a small apartment in Los Angeles.

One goal is to trace all of Tillie's nieces and nephews, the children of her brother Joseph Jacobs and his wife, Eva Michalovsky Jacobs. Two of Joseph's and Eva's daughter died young. I know where one of the other daughters lived in 1950, and one of the sons. So I'll be looking for the two other children!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Larimer and McClure Ancestors Worked on the Railroad

Hubby's Great-Great-Grandpa Brice Larimer was a "RR agent" in 1860
As readers know, I married my husband for his ancestors. There is so much to say about them! I wrote last year about my husband's long line of farmers going back many generations, and the year before I wrote about his long line of Wood ancestors stretching back to England in the 1500s (carefully researched by two genealogist cousins).

For 2020, I wanted a fresh take on "long line." As usual, hubby's family tree has a wealth of stories waiting to be told. I remembered that a number of his ancestors worked for railroads over the years. Here I look briefly at four of those ancestors, two in the Larimer family and two in the McClure family.

Larimer on the Railroad

Brice S. Larimer (1819-1906), my husband's 2d great-granddaddy, was a farmer in Elkhart county, Indiana, in 1850. He was appointed an agent for the Lake Shore Railroad in 1859, and reported that as his occupation in the 1860 Census (see excerpt above). He continued working as railroad agent for decades. He faithfully attended Larimer family reunions and was often mentioned in news stories as being the eldest there--by far. His grandson was named Brice in his memory (see below).

Brice's son, William Tyler Bentley Larimer (1849-1921) worked at the railroad depot in 1870, according to that census. After he married Elizabeth Stauffer in 1872, however, he settled down to farming in Millersburg, Elkhart cty, Indiana. William was my husband's 2d great uncle. He was named for William Tyler Bentley, an ancestor who went west during the gold rush era.

McClure on the Railroad

My husband's great-granddaddy William Madison McClure (1849-1887) reported working on the railroad in the 1880 Census, when he was 31 years old. Unfortunately, he fell ill with typhoid fever and died when only 37 years old. Thanks to a news report, I know he had arranged for life insurance, much needed by his widow who had young children to care for.

William's son, Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970), was a machinist working for the "Big Four" railroads in Wabash, Indiana, when he married Floyda Mabel Steiner in 1903. His skill as a machinist meant he was never out of work, working for railroads and later for war industries during WWII. Brice, named for Brice S. Larimer, was my husband's grandfather. Hubby has fond memories of learning to fish while visiting his cabin in the country during summers off from school.

"Long line" is #52Ancestors prompt #3 for 2020.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Comparing Ancestors with 1950 Census Statistics - for Context

When the 1950 US Census is released in April, 2022, I won't just be looking at who and where--I'll be studying all the answers provided by my ancestors and comparing them to national statistics for the period. This puts my ancestors into context. Income is a good example.

National Statistics: Median US Income in 1949

According to the above map, based on results in the 1950 Census, the median income for 1949 reported by respondents to the Census was $2,619.

The map also shows the handful of states where median income was higher than this national average--and the many states where the median income was lower than this national average.

Many of my ancestors lived in New York in 1950, so I expect that if any were asked the supplemental questions about income, they will answer with above-average earnings. My husband's ancestors were in Ohio, which as a state also shows above-average earnings.

Were My Ancestors Above or Below the Median?

Based on my mother's recollections, my father's earnings in 1949 were well above this national median. If I'm lucky, he will have answered the supplemental questions asked of 20% of the US population in 1950, so I can compare with the median figure.

A self-employed travel agent, my father's business was doing very well during the post-war period. In fact, he could barely keep up with demand for train and plane tickets. Then again, his business was based in a luxury hotel across the street from the world-famous Plaza Hotel in New York City. Well-heeled guests sought out his services to arrange itineraries for trips near and far.

Want to read more about the 1950 Census? See the summary of my series on this page.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Census Day Bounced Around, and So Did Some Ancestors

From 1950 Census of Population: Vol. 2 (

In 2020, Census Day will be April 1st. This is not April Fool!

But Census Day hasn't always been April 1st. I try to keep this in mind when looking for my ancestors in earlier Census years.
  • As shown in the excerpt above, Census Day was originally not a fixed date but taken on the first Monday in August.
  • In the mid-19th century, Census Day was changed to June 1.
  • In 1910, Census Day became April 15.
  • In 1920, Census Day became January 1.
  • Only in 1930 was Census Day fixed as April 1, where it remains.
Because my great-grandpa Meyer Mahler died in January of 1910, my great-grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler was enumerated as a widow on April 15th--a vital clue I needed to find his death cert. If Census Day had been January 1, however, it would have been more difficult for me to narrow down a possible death date for him.
Focus on 1950 Census

As the excerpt indicates, two-thirds of the US population was counted by mid-April in 1950. By month's end, 90% of the population was counted.

However, "unfavorable weather conditions" in some areas delayed enumeration as late as mid-May. Finally, by the end of June, 99% of the US population was counted. I'll be sure to check the enumeration date on each ancestor's record when the 1950 Census is released in April of 2022.

From a broader perspective, the 1950 Census reflected major post-war trends in population shifts. The map above shows that four states experienced population loss. All others increased population--with the greatest growth on the West Coast, plus Florida, Virginia, and Michigan.

As I chart my ancestors' whereabouts in the 1940s to prep for the 1950 release, I need to consider how many might have moved elsewhere after World War II. There are at least a few who went west to California. Dear ancestors, you can run, but you can't hide. I hope!

For more posts about the 1950 US Census, see my summary page here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Extra Notations and Detailed Answers in 1950 US Census

 Excerpt from 1950
US Census
This is my fourth post about understanding the 1950 US Census, to be released in April, 2022. (You can see other posts on my summary page here.)

Whether enumerators for the 1950 US Census actually followed the rules set forth in the instructions, I don't yet know. But if they did, we genealogists will be glad for their extra notations and detailed answers.

Some examples:
  • If the enumerator can't get a specific, accurate age from a household respondent, he or she was instructed to "enter an estimate as the last resort, and footnote it as an estimate." Wonder whether my Great-grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler told the truth about her age? She tended to fudge a year or two in either direction.
  • If the enumerator thinks an answer is not truthful, he or she should footnote it and indicate what the truthful answer might be. Wouldn't that be interesting to see on a page with my ancestors? Looking at Great-grandma Tillie, would the enumerator believe she was, say, 98? I can't wait to find out.
  • Asking about the respondent's occupation, enumerators are not to accept a general term like "agent" or "clerk" or "engineer" but must ask questions to obtain more specifics, such as "purchasing agent" or "aeronautical engineer." This would help me learn a bit more about ancestors whose work lives I know little about.
  • Enumerators were to be specific about the county in which the respondent lived a year before. This will be really valuable to me, because instructions say not to accept merely "New York City" but ask about the specific borough of the city. If my ancestors moved from, say, Brooklyn to the Bronx in 1949-50, this question may reveal the move. I'm talking about you, Great-aunt Nellie Block! 

Monday, January 13, 2020

What Future Genealogists Will Learn from the 2020 US Census

Page 1 of the 2020 Census questionnaire
Attending a presentation by local representatives of the 2020 US Census, I learned that in the year 2092, when the records are publicly released, future genealogists will be able to see some very valuable pieces of information. (You can browse the entire 2020 questionnaire here.)

Page 2 of 2020 Census

One key piece of info is the month, day, and year of birth for each person in the household, to be entered on page 2 of the Census questionnaire.

Future genealogists will be able to look for a birth cert, compare with age shown on other documents, match someone to a marriage license or other vital record, and so on--with more confidence because they will have the complete birth date, not just "age" or birth month and year.

I was surprised but interested to learn that another question (on page 1) is about whether a person in the household (1) owns the residence clear and free of a mortgage, (2) has a mortgage, or (3) is not paying rent. Clues to seeking deeds, taxes, and other records!

2020 Census questions about usual residence
and relationship to head of household
Happily for future genealogists, the 2020 Census asks specific questions about whether each person usually lives in this residence AND about exactly how each person in the household is related to the head of household (Person 1).

Look at the many answer alternatives shown in the excerpt above! 

These two questions will elicit incredibly valuable information for future genealogists. Question #2 will point toward where the person's usual residence is (such as with another relative or in the military). Question #3 will tell, with great precision, how each person is related to the head of the household--clues to filling in gaps in the family tree!

Future genealogists, there may not be many questions on the 2020 Census form, but there will be several top-quality clues to be followed up. Yes, I'm going to answer the Census as fully and completely as possible. You'll be able to find me and my family in 72 years, I promise.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

1950 US Census: "Think Like an Enumerator"

1950 US Census manual
Although the release of the 1950 US Census is more than two years away, I'm getting ready now.

My prep for this Census release includes understanding what the enumerators were instructed to do (and not do).

I'm browsing through the Urban & Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual so I can . . . "Think Like an Enumerator." (You can read the manual here.)

Enumerators were told, for example, that if no one was home at time of their visit and that household was expected to be away for some time, talk with a neighbor and record as much detail as possible. Then add the notation: "Information given by a neighbor."

Now, 72 years later, we should take such information with a grain of salt because it was not first-hand. How many neighbors can recite the proper age or birth year for anyone or everyone in my household? None. Same holds true for 1950, even though neighbors might have been living near each other for many years. But I'm happy that the Census will contain such notations to alert us to be cautious in accepting the information as factual.

Enumerator instructions on p. 10 of 1950 Census manual
Also I will be checking the pages before and after my ancestor's enumeration for members of the FAN club!

Be aware that 1950 Census enumerators were instructed to visit residences in a particular order and to ask neighbors where houses were located, so they wouldn't miss any. Read more on the U.S. National Archives blog here.

P.S.: I'm putting all of my 1950 Census blog posts into one summary page, with header found at top of my blog. The direct link is here. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two Bracelets, Two Family Heirlooms

Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, mid-1920s
Shown here in one of my favorite photos is Mom (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Schwartz, 1919-2001), with matching Buster Brown haircuts and lacy dropped-waist dresses.

Look very carefully at the arm of the smiling twin on the right, and you can see a dainty pearl bracelet dangling from her wrist. No doubt both girls had identical bracelets, but only Mom's survives.

It's a tiny heirloom (see the ruler to see how tiny) that will be shared with Mom's descendants, along with the treasured studio photo of the twins.

Worn by Daisy Schwartz Burk

The second bracelet heirloom is this one from the late 1950s, a piece of Mom's costume jewelry with photos on both sides--photos of her twin daughters (Sis and me).

As with the pearl bracelet, this charm bracelet will be shared with Mom's descendants, along with memories of her and her twin sister, my Auntie Dorothy.

One of my 2020 goals is to finish a booklet about Daisy and Dorothy, with lots of photos to bring them alive for future generations who never had the opportunity to know them.

"Favorite photo" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Who We Are and How We're Related

List of Larimer ancestors written by Brice Larimer McClure
"I am Brice McClure, a son of Margaret Larimer McClure and Wm. McClure," begins the scrap of family history above. It was written by my husband's maternal grandfather (Brice Larimer McClure, 1878-1970) in the first half of the twentieth century.

The family treasures this scrap of paper in Brice's handwriting, listing what he was told about his Larimer family's history. It also demonstrates Brice's pride in his family's background and his hope that these ancestors would be remembered for generations to come.

Brice set a wonderful example: He told descendants (1) exactly who he was and (2) exactly how he was related to his ancestors.

I've been putting my name and the date on every family history booklet I write. Now I realize that's not enough information about me.

When I wrote my most recent booklet about my late father-in-law's musical life, I added a longer note to the title page:
"Written by Marian Burk Wood, daughter-in-law of Edgar James Wood, in December, 2019."
In a decade or two, when some descendant pulls this dusty booklet off the shelf, he or she will see both my name and my relationship to this ancestor.

Although I could add even more info to explain how I fit into the family, I want to keep things simple and leave the spotlight on the featured ancestor in my booklet.

Now future generations will at least know my name, my relationship to the ancestor I'm writing about, and when I prepared the booklet.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Fresh Start: New York's Cafe Monopol

The entrepreneurial Roth family, cousins to my Hungarian-born great-grandpa Moritz Farkas, sought a fresh start after leaving Hungary for opportunities in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Cafe Monopol on Second Avenue in NYC

Peter Roth (1872-1956) and his brother-in-law Peter Stern, with two other partners, owned and operated the Viennese-style restaurant Cafe Monopol at 145 Second Avenue in Manhattan.
They paid $5 to organize as a corporation in 1913 (shown at left).

Peter and his wife had put in $10,000 in funding during the previous year, according to incorporation documents. The incorporation process probably formalized family shares in the restaurant corporation.

Peter had headed the Cafe Monopol since at least 1910. That's the year he told the US Census he was the "keeper" of this restaurant, which was also listed in the 1910 New York city directory. He learned the business from the ground up, listing "waiter" as his occupation in the 1900 Census (when he lived only a few blocks from his future business).

I just found an ad for Cafe Monopol on November 21, 1908, saying "Hungarian music, Vienna Restaurant" at the 2d Avenue address. And other early ads in New York Evening Telegram for the Cafe Monopol said it featured "a concert every evening." The place must have been hopping at dinnertime!

A Cafe Monopol in Berlin and Another in New York

Reading the 2018 book, A Rich Brew: How Cafes Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker, I was pleased to find the Roths' Cafe Monopol in New York briefly mentioned (p. 228). Much more space was devoted to the far better-known Cafe Monopol in Berlin, then a gathering place for Zionists (see pages 167+ of the book). Surely my Roth ancestors from Hungary would have been aware of the Berlin cafe's fame when naming their New York cafe.

In New York City, the entire Second Avenue neighborhood around Cafe Monopol was home to a rich brew of Jewish culture, including the Yiddish Art Theatre and the National Theatre. In the 1940s, a cousin of my Roth and Farkas ancestors acted in New York's Yiddish theater for a time!

A Star's Fresh Start at the Cafe Monopol

I just found out that a really big star got her fresh start at the Cafe Monopol more than a century ago.

Sonya Kalish, the star's original name, was a baby when her family settled in Hartford, CT after leaving Tulchin, Ukraine. She married Louis Tuck and was known as Sophie Tuck.

But Sophie was eager to sing, and so she took herself off to New York City to break into show business. Her money was running out when she approached the proprietor of Cafe Monopol and offered to (literally) sing for her supper.

When he asked her name, she made up a variation of her married name on the spot: Sophie Tucker. 

That's how Sonya Kalish became Sophie Tucker ("The last of the red-hot mamas"), and got a fresh start at the Cafe Monopol on Second Avenue in New York City!

(My sources: Sophie's biography, "Some of These Days," and the Museum of the City of New York.)


Many thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for this first #52Ancestors prompt of 2020.