Sunday, January 27, 2013

YEP, IT'S US.......BUT

Genealogists, especially older genealogists, look forward to the time when they can begin finding themselves on research documents.  It's a bittersweet kind of look, though.  It's an acknowledgement that we have lasted long enough to finally appear on something, such as a census page (censuses are opened to the public only after 70 years have passed) and a similar, logical acknowledgement that yes, we are old.

In spring of this year the 1940 census was made public.  And for the first time, there I was!  Little Barbara was 4 years old, my sister 2 years old, with my parents living on Henderson Avenue in Long Beach, California.  There was nothing on our entry in the census that I didn't already know, but I felt just to be noted there was a real event!  I will be on the 1950 census too, still living in Long Beach, but I doubt very much that I will be around to see that census.  My children, at least 3 of them, will appear on the 1960 census.  This is one of the ways that genealogists track families.

The various genealogy "businesses" have made it possible for us to use the internet to do our research much more quickly and much easier than we did when I first started.  We are, however, limited in finding all that we want because everything in the world isn't on the internet (yet!). 

And furthermore, we must be very careful in evaluating whatever information we are lucky enough to find.  I knew when I read the 1940 census entry on my family that everything was exactly as it should be.  I was born in 1935.  Since I appeared as 4 years old, not 5, that possible discrepancy made me look at the date that the census was taken.  I was born in June, and if the census was taken before June I would show as 4.  If it was taken after June 26, I would show as 5 years old.   The census taker noted on the form that he/she had walked Henderson street in May of that year, so the 4 was correct.  We always need to follow up on anything that appears different than what we expect.  Sometimes the source is inaccurate; othertimes our memories may be faulty.  All this kind of information processing must go on if we want to be taken as serious genealogists.

So when just the other day I found my name listed in a 1959 Long Beach City Directory, the listing shown above, I was dumbfounded.  At that time I was married to Joe Kirkpatrick.  We lived on Gardenia Avenue in Long Beach.  But that was as far as "right" went.  Between 1956 and 1959 we lived at three different addresses on Gardenia.  My father owned one triplex next door to my folks house, and he also owned several more duplexes on the other side of the triplex.  When we married, we moved into the small one-bedroom triplex unit at 1610 Gardenia.  That is where our first child was born.  The larger two-bedroom unit at the back of the building, with its own address as 1614, became available and we moved into it in time for my second child's birth in 1957.  By 1959 I was pregnant again and dad suggested we move into one of the larger duplex apartments, at 1602 Gardenia, when it became available; we did.  Finally, in August of 1959, two months after our third child was born, we bought and moved into our first house, leaving Long Beach for Orange County.  The City Directory showing our address as 1614 was really off!

Now genealogists who deal with city directories will always take into consideration that between the time material is collected each year and the directory goes to print, people can move, divorces or death can happen, etc.  And we do make some allowance for accuracy, but I was truly puzzled with how the Long Beach City Directory in 1959 could have shown me at an address that I hadn't lived in for nearly two years.

But more than that, it said my husband was working as an orderly at St. Mary's Hospital.  Again, thinking of the births of my children, in 1956, Joe was working as a truck driver for Don Snyder Wholesale Liquor Company; in 1957, he went to work driving a truck for Coca Cola, and in 1961 he left Coca Cola and began his career with Parke Davis as a drug salesman.  Yes, there was a time in 1955 when he had odd jobs while he was trying to continue his education, but with the advent of a second child, he left college for full-time work to support his growing family.  Since his original intent was to get to medical school, he may have - for a very short while - worked at St. Mary's.  But I have absolutely no recollection of his being there and he is dead, so I can't ask him.  But I admit to being flummoxed when I read - if taken at face value - that in 1959 he was an orderly.

It is this kind of information that genealogists often get from various documents, and we have to remind ourselves that just because things get written down it doesn't mean it is engraved in stone.  The same thing happens with old family stories.  After years of hearing the story told, we often are very reluctant to admit that it may not have been exactly that way.... errors of memory creep in sometimes and sometimes the information gets passed on just like the old kid's game of "gossip" where a set of circumstances gets whispered from person to person in a circle and the person at the end of the chain repeats out loud what he/she was told; it is never exactly the way it starts out.  

Does any of this matter?  It does, to the extent we genealogists want our information to be correct.  But as to what I found in the directory, someone down the road making up a story they think is accurate based on the written information they find will be way off the mark.  It pays to check and double-check before we drive our stake in the facts. 

However, there is another benefit for even looking for such documents in the first place.  There is a story around most tidbits we find in our research - and in this case it's just a simple story about how our families stepped in and helped two dumb kids find their way when we obviously didn't have a lick of sense.  My kids probably need to know that, because sometimes I'm afraid they think we had it pretty easy when they were little.  The hard times were really by our own making!

Genealogy is fun because it takes us backwards into our families past and reminds us of stories we haven't yet told.  For some, genealogy is nothing more than getting names, dates and connections down on a piece of paper.  I do that too, but I am mostly interested in finding the story that is wrapped up in it.

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