How did you meet your spouse/sweetheart? How did your siblings or friends meet theirs? Most people I know met at school: college or high school. Of course there have always been more interesting and unusual ways to meet, and these stories usually get told and retold. I suspect there are more matches made these days by online or other dating services as well as fix-ups among people who have settled into a job and place to live without a significant other. As we wait longer to match up, the needs change for meeting a special someone.

For earlier generations I think it was a little different. Do you know how your parents met? Or your grandparents? I know for my parents and one of my two sets of grandparents, so I am doing well. My husband doesn’t know for his parents, and has a family myth for one set of grandparents (never confirmed or fleshed out as far as I know) and doesn’t know for the other set. The stories I know confirm that young people met at school or in a neighborhood, or sometimes through friends (but still in a relatively close geographic neighborhood).

How their parents met is a large question mark for my husband and his sister. Neither parent would talk about the past much by the time my sister-in-law was asking and my husband wasn’t as interested when he was younger. Now both of their parents are long gone, as are my father-in-law’s sister and her husband, who might have known some of the story. The problem is that Sarah, my mother-in-law, was born and raised in Milwaukee and was in school in Chicago (the furthest East I can place her) up until the time they married in Buffalo. Izzy, my father-in-law, was living and working in Buffalo having been born and raised in Syracuse New York. I don’t know that he ever traveled as a youngster or young man any further West than Buffalo. I was thinking about this mystery again, which inspired this post.

The couple who couldn’t have met

Here is what I know about Sarah and about Izzy, along with my thoughts and many speculations and questions about what might have led to their meeting. The basics are as stated in the previous paragraph. Sarah had been raised by her mother in Milwaukee, who was a single parent so life was difficult. At any rate, Sarah graduated from high school and went to college, finishing at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1932. Then in March 1937 she was admitted to the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration as a graduate student, taking one course per quarter (according to her transcript). She attended classes in the Spring and Fall Quarter of 1937, withdrew for the Winter Quarter of 1938, and resumed classes in the Spring and Fall Quarters of 1938. She left after the Fall Quarter of 1938 and did not earn a degree. In March 1939 she and Izzy were married in New York.

Izzy started high school in Syracuse and the family moved to Buffalo in his senior year. He finished courses in Buffalo but officially graduated from Central High School in Syracuse (because he didn’t meet the residency requirement to graduate in Buffalo he always said). He attended the University of Buffalo from about 1928 – 1932 when he graduated with a Law degree. He soon went back (this was the Great Depression) and since he had already completed some of the coursework, he graduated with a B.A. In 1936. There is some reason to speculate that by being a student, perhaps only part time, he was eligible for some student benefits and perhaps even some financial support. From 1936 to 1941 he worked in the Buffalo area but I don’t have an accurate picture yet of where or for how long. He told his children that he worked for the Water Department in what he described as a sinecure, and he had a small (?) private practice as a lawyer.

So how did a graduate student in Chicago and a young lawyer in Buffalo happen to meet and fall in love? That is the $64,000 question. On the face of it, their meeting seems so unlikely as to have been impossible. The first piece of evidence showing them to be in the same place at the same time is when they applied for their marriage license in the Buffalo clerk’s office in March 1939.

So far, I have come up with the following fantasy scenarios. Izzy went to Chicago for a union strike (or to visit a college friend) and they met. Izzy went to Detroit to visit relatives and Sarah was visiting in Detroit and they met. Sarah went to Buffalo for some reason (I’d say a professional conference but in the late 1930s I would guess that was very unlikely). As far as I know they didn’t have any common relatives or even friends. So, for now, while I struggle to think of ways to find out which one traveled and what the meeting circumstances were (?purely social, purely political? something else?), it looks like this is another documented case of ancestors dropped in place by aliens and their lives went on from that time forward. Unless it was just Sarah who was abducted by aliens and she found herself in the clerk’s office where you apply for marriage licenses and Izzy just happened to be there doing some other legal business and they decided it would be a great joke if they got married.

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