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.

Is it just me, or is there something about this year, in particular? It seems there are so many 100-year anniversaries of note this year – already, and it is only April. What was it about 1912 as a time in this country?

The news is always reporting about one or another anniversary. The sinking of the Titanic is a big one, getting a lot of coverage right now. And in my area, Boston, it is also the One Hundredth Anniversary of Fenway Park, home of our Boston Red Sox. It is also the one hundredth anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence Massachusetts. Textile factory workers, many young immigrant women, went on strike for more than 2 months looking for higher wages in response to a new law shortening the work week. Massachusetts had passed a law limiting the work day to 8 hours. And the first cherry tree saplings which inspired the annual Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival were presented by the City of Tokyo to the City of Washington one hundred years ago.

So what does all of this have to do with Aunt Freda?

Freda as a baby

In thinking about 1912, I went looking to see who in the family was born that year. It turns out, of the birth information I have, the closest relative in our family born in 1912 was my father-in-law’s younger sister, Freda Greenberg. She was born in January 1912, in Syracuse, New York. There is no family history that I have yet found that mentions who she might have been named after. My current favorite notion is that her father wanted her named after his mother, Feige. Sounds reasonable – not a shred of evidence.

Freda started school as a five year old, speaking only Yiddish and being left-handed. This was probably the Fall of 1917. The teacher tied her left hand behind her back — all the while speaking English to her. What an introduction to formal education!

Nevertheless, she must have liked school, and she was a good student. When she was about 12 years old, the family moved from Syracuse to Buffalo, New York, in about 1924. So she went to high school in Buffalo.

Freda's high school picture

We think she finished high school in 3 years. Her high school quote was: “And still they gazed and wonder grew that one small head could carry all she knew.” We know she had aspirations to more education, and she went on to college, even though it was the Great Depression.

Her brother, Iz, remembered this disruption during her college days: “When she was in college, we were subject at University of Buffalo to a tuberculosis check. You know, they gave everybody this tuberculosis check and they inject it, stuff under your skin and if you showed a positive reaction, then you were told to go and get x-rays, have your lungs x-rayed. Well some crazy x-ray specialist in Buffalo sent her a written report to the effect that he had never seen one so young with so much infection, TB infection in her lungs. Now you can imagine how horrified my parents were. And the family doctor read that report and said, “Look, she’s got to drop —” She was majoring in chemistry. She’s gotta drop out of college right away and, you know, rest in bed for months. Maybe we can forestall having to go to a sanitarium.” Well, we found out that night that the Arbeiter Ring, which had a great deal of strength in New York City among the garment workers, and TB was rampant among them and they worked in sweat shops and there was all sorts of lint flying around. The Arbeiter Ring had established a TB sanitarium in Liberty, New York, in the Catskills and he got the bright idea of sending my mother and my sister up to the Catskills for vacation. And in the meantime — somewhere near Liberty — and in the meantime they would make an appointment to have her examined at the TB sanitarium. I remember I drove up there, I drove them up. And I went to the sanitarium with my mother and my sister and there was — the doctor in charge of the sanitarium was extremely understanding and very nice and said, “Well, now, don’t, don’t get too upset, Mrs. Greenberg. I have had TB myself. That’s why I am in this work. I’m going to take your daughter away and give her some x-rays and so forth.” He came back in about a half an hour and said, “The guy was all wrong. She doesn’t have the slightest case of TB. What she has is some calcified spots on her lungs.” And he said, “Everybody over the age of 21 — practically anybody — cause we all come in contact with some TB germs, bacilli. And what happens in the normal body is that, as a defense, the lungs form calcified spots around there and that’s the end of it. That’s all she’s got.”

Freda, college graduation

There was no more family history about this possible disruption to her college days. In fact there is some thought that she managed to finish in 3 years rather than the usual 4. We do know that she graduated in June 1932. (I wrote some about this a couple of years ago – click here if you want to go back to the first post about education in this family.) She was just 20 years old. Freda had aspirations to medical school – she was the scientist in the family. But because it was the Great Depression (and perhaps because she was expected to help support her brother’s additional schooling) the family could not support her in this. No matter the reason, it was a bitter disappointment to her.

It seems likely that the family hoped/expected that she would go to work as soon as possible and help support the family. I was told by the registrar’s office at University of Buffalo that it was not uncommon for young adults to stay in school as long as they could due to the scarcity of jobs during this time. Her first job out of college was at DuPont in Buffalo. She had competed with a huge group of people for one of two jobs they had available. She worked in a lab testing the permeability of what was to become cellophane. We don’t know exactly how long she held this job, but it was a major feat that she got it.

Judy and I didn’t make it to Hartford this week, so I’m writing about something else. Since it is Women’s History month, and only a couple of weeks since St. Patrick’s Day, it seems appropriate to write a little about Nora Hunt and my searching for her maiden name.

I recently pulled “Angela’s Ashes” off my to-read pile and read it. At about the same time I was going through the emails in one of my research folders, trying to add sources to my husband’s family tree and clean up that pile. I ran across a series of emails back and forth with his cousins about their grandmother, Nora, on their father’s side. Ok, so no direct relation of my husband’s, but an interesting collateral line. Nora and their grandfather John were Irish, Catholic, and had their own life stories – mostly only known to us as bits and pieces, but which surely contributed to what Uncle Jim’s early life was like.

The couple’s life story started, as told by their son, when Nora got pregnant and John escaped back to Ireland only to have her brother come after him. He was brought back to the US and they got married. Maybe not until after the baby was born, since Jim told people he was “illegitimate”. (This sounds a lot like the beginning of “Angela’s Ashes”.) Nora had been married before, and had a son from that marriage. Story went that this son was put in an orphanage or otherwise put out of the family after John and Nora married.

We had other tidbits of information. I was originally told that Nora’s maiden name was McNamara. She had a brother Thomas and a sister Mae, who later lived in Buffalo too. She was said to have came from Quilty, County Clare, Ireland. John was said to have came from Kilmorna, County Kerry, Ireland. Not a lot to go on, but some hints. I think these places were what John and Nora actually said about where they came from.

When I started looking into this family, I started with the censuses. And the 1910 census provided some interesting information. There was the family, living in Buffalo where I

John Hunt family, 1910

expected to find them, and the household included a 16 year old stepson and a boarder named Thomas Fitzgibbons. Could the boarder be her brother Thomas, and a clue to her maiden name? The stepson’s name certainly provided a clue about her previous married name. His information also suggested that the marriage had been in Canada, where he was reportedly born. In addition, Nora had borne 3 children 2 still living as of the 1910 census.

The next thing I found was a World War I registration card for John McGowan in Buffalo that looked like the right one. He was 24 in 1917, and had a wife and child. He also listed a birthdate and place: Hamilton, Ontario. So I looked on for McGowan listings in that location. And I found the indexed record of his birth, listing both parent’s names, including Nora’s maiden name of McNamara. With his father’s name in my pocket I looked for their marriage record in Canada

McGowan-McNamara marriage

and minutes later had it. As soon as I saw it I knew why I hadn’t been able to find anything under Nora’s name; she was listed as Leonora not Nora. Not a variation I would have thought of. Better yet, both of Nora’s parents were named, including her mother’s maiden name. You have to love good recordkeeping!

The most recent searching I have done was also on – looking for children born to John and Margaret Madden McNamara, Nora’s parents. I have found five so far, all daughters except for one. And the son I have found is named John, not Thomas. So I clearly have more searching to do. I did find the daughter I think is our Nora: named Honora, and born in September 1867. That would have made her about 37, for the New York State census of 1905, where she was enumerated with her father and mother and listed as 32. And about 42 for the 1910 census, on which she was reported to be 35. On the 1920 census she was listed as 45. And on the 1930 as 50. My theory of the moment is that, in a time-honored tradition for women, Nora shaved years off her age each time she gave information for an official record, and a few more years each time. It will be interesting to see what age is listed for her when the 1940 census comes out in just a week.

In the past week my social life has been busier than usual (being a quiet home-loving type).  We had two graduation parties and I had a wedding shower, plus a day with Judy and Ann which is in a category of its own.  The graduation I am thinking about today is actually one that took place in June 1932.

One of our graduations was a young cousin (first cousin once removed to be specific) who graduated from high school this week.  She is a wonderful young woman who we are enjoying watch grow up.  As part of the festivities her parents held a small dinner party for the family and we had a mini-reunion.  Her father and his two sisters were there (my husband’s first cousins), one sister’s husband and their adult daughter, and a second cousin.  Along with all the talk about college, and the graduation ceremony, and what our young cousin will do this summer, there were many conversations about “how did they meet?” and “when did they move to?” and “where did we all sleep?” and the priceless (from one cousin to another) “remember when I took the scissors to your hair?”.  The kind of conversation that you hope for when getting family together.  And pictures got brought down from the walls and the upstairs cache.  Including a number that we don’t have copies of, that I am plotting to get my hands on long enough to scan.

Iz and Freda, graduation June 1932

The best one (and most appropriate to the graduation) was a picture of the two siblings who were parents to my husband and the three cousins, in graduation robes and hats.  The back says Iz-Law School, Freda-B.A., June 1932.

These graduations were significant for several reasons.  The most notable is that Iz and Freda were the children of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, neither of whom had any formal education.  Iz and Freda not only graduated from high school but from college, and in Iz’s case also from law school.  Iz described his father Nathan as never having gone to school a day of his life but that he was “ to tutor his kids here in America in biology and math when we were in high school. And where he acquired that knowledge, I don’t know. But it’s confirmed by the kids. My father also became literate, read the Yiddish papers and he read the English papers.”

Iz and Freda also grew up speaking only Yiddish until they started school, only learning English at age 5 or 6.  I am also told that Freda was left-handed and forced to switch to her right by having her left hand tied behind her.  What an introduction to education!

Iz’s progress through school was not the path I expected.  He graduated from high school in 1925.  The family had moved from Syracuse to Buffalo during his senior year of high school and although he finished the year in Buffalo, the school there wouldn’t grant a diploma because he hadn’t been there for the full year.  So he had to return to Syracuse to get his diploma from Central High School where he had started.  Then he apparently worked for about 3-4 years, and entered University of Buffalo in the Arts and Sciences program in about September 1928.  It looks like he may have taken a year of basic courses and then entered the law school probably the next year.  He graduated from the law school in 1932.  In those years the law degree was a Bachelor of Laws, not the Juris Doctor that it is today everywhere in this country, so it is possible that he originally entered as a law student directly from high school or after only a year of college level courses.

Between 1932 and 1936 he went back to school and did a Bachelor of Arts in History and Government.  My theory is that during this period of time, which was during the Great Depression, he had difficulty finding work and going to school made sense.  He could have gone part time and kept student benefits, or may have had a scholarship of some sort which was fairly common in those years I have been told.

Lena with Iz's sign

Lena with Iz's sign

We know that he hung out a shingle as a lawyer from a snapshot of his mother standing proudly beside it.  He also worked for the city water department at some point.  And I have been told by one of the relatives that he may have taught history after college for some period of time.  These occupations should be verifiable, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.  He was admitted to the bar in New York in August 1933, so couldn’t have practiced privately until after that time.

Iz’s sister Freda graduated with a degree in chemistry at the same time Iz graduated from law school.  She was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Buffalo in chemistry.  After graduation she succeeded in getting a highly competed-for job with DuPont, working in a lab.  She later taught high school chemistry in Buffalo until 1942 when she was pregnant with her first child.  She had married in 1937, and presumably married women were allowed to continue teaching as long as they weren’t pregnant.  She had to hide her pregnancy to avoid being fired.  I have been told that Freda had wanted to go to medical school, but given the Depression (and perhaps to help keep her brother in school) she went to work instead.  There has been a strong thread of interest (and ability) in science in the family (among the women as well as the men) although none of the older generation went into careers using science except for Freda.

This generation, the children of immigrants with little or no formal education, was highly educated one and all.  And they passed on the love of learning and the valuing of education to their children.  So we will continue to have graduations to celebrate for some time to come.

Actually, it was two brothers and a sister.  And they didn’t come together but at three different times to two different places.  From about 1899 to 1905.  And there was a friend who became a brother-in-law.  They, like many immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, first lived in New York City.  And the children of one of their first cousins came.  And a nephew and a niece (two children of a brother who didn’t emigrate) came.  And the brother-in-law and daughter of a sister who died came.  All settled, some for good and some more briefly, in the New York City area.  You can see how tangled these family lines are as I try to figure out who is who and when they were where.

The people I am interested in for this story are the two brothers, Sam and Harry Levine, their sister Lena, and the friend of Harry’s, Nathan Greenberg.  Sam and his wife were in New York City by about 1900-01 and their daughter was born there.  They stayed for several years.  It was here that Harry joined him, and here that Nathan also met up with them again.  Lena is a little harder to find, but she must have also lived there.  For some reason, Sam moved his family to upstate NY, to Syracuse.  And Harry and Nathan both followed.  It was to Syracuse that Harry then brought his wife and 2 children.  It was in Syracuse soon after that Nathan and Lena married.

When I was writing the earlier post about Nathan and his story, I thought that Dan’s cousin Mary might know some more about Harry and Nathan or, better yet, might have a connection with one of the relatives out in Michigan where Harry and his family had ended up.  My husband and his sister have never had a connection with this line of relatives.  I knew that Mary was in touch with Sophie, although I didn’t know if she was still alive; and I thought that Mary is also in touch with some of the next generation out there.  So I left her a message asking.  I should say before going on that Sophie is the younger daughter of Harry Levine and in her 101st year.  But as Mary says, she is “sharp as a tack”.

I wondered if there was any family information from Harry Levine’s side about the two of them meeting in London.  I have always liked the story that Harry told Nathan to come to America and marry his sister Lena.  But it has always been just that, a family story or myth that was at least once removed (heard from father-in-law Izzy who had been told the story by his father much later in life).

Late last Sunday I found a message on my cell phone from cousin Mary.  She has a wonderful ability to tell you 14 things in a single short message.  The item I was most interested in was that she had talked, as promised, with cousin Sophie out in Michigan.  And Sophie would be glad to talk with me, although she doesn’t know much about her father’s family.  Mary warned me that Sophie had not thought much of her father.  So now I have a phone number.  Along with a lot of other family information that doesn’t fit this story.

So on Monday afternoon late, with not a little trepidation (I hate to make cold calls!), I called the number.  When Sophie answered she told me she was just on her way to dinner, and she asked if I could call back later in the evening.  Of course I could.  And did.   And we talked for an hour and a half.  I scribbled as fast as I could, trying to get the important things written, at least enough that I could remember the whole story, hoping I’d be able to read my handwriting and not wanting to miss a word of what Sophie was saying.  Never occurred to me ahead of time to think about whether I could tape it.  Not that I know how to do that over the phone.

Back: Lena, Nathan, Esther Yellin (cousin) Front: Louis Levine, Harry Levine, Rachel (Rose) Levine, Mary Levine, 1906

What Sophie told me:  That her father and mother had been married in the old country and had 2 children there.  That her mother came from Bialystok and her father from a small village near there.  That it had been an arranged marriage by her mother’s parents because she was in love with a young man they considered unsuitable.  That at some point after the marriage Sophie’s father had left Russia and gone to England for a job, leaving his wife and 2 children in the small village.  Harry was a cabinetmaker and carpenter.  That he spent 5 years in London.  And that he met Nathan there.  Her father apparently never told the story of getting Nathan to come marry his sister Lena, but Sophie certainly heard about that family as she grew up.

Interestingly, Sophie didn’t know much about the rest of her father’s family.  This is becoming the theme of all of the families on my husband’s side.  She didn’t know how many brothers and sisters he had or what happened to them.  It sounds like she knew about the two families who stayed in northern New York but not about the sister’s family who came a little later and stayed in New York City.  There were also two other brothers and one of them had children who migrated to the U.S.

Sophie had been told the story, by her mother, about a brother of her father’s who was very good at carving.  (This story was told with little variation by several branches of the family.)  One day he was sitting by the roadside, working on a piece of stone and a Russian soldier came by.  The soldier was very impressed by the work this brother was doing and told him to come to the city to be trained as an artist.  The Levine parents would not let him go because Jews are not supposed to make graven images.  The brother went crazy and died.

Harry Levine, Detroit, 1915

Sophie’s family had moved to the Detroit area when she was a small girl, to be closer to her mother’s family.  Her mother had 3 sisters there and they were a close family.  Harry doesn’t seem to have kept in very close touch with any of his family, although there were occasional postcards (picture to the left is one he sent).  Harry was described by Sophie as not having any friends in Detroit, although my father-in-law said that Harry and Nathan were good friends as well as brothers-in-law.

Another connection Sophie remembers between the Nathan Greenbergs and her family was that around 1926-27, Lena’s daughter Freda who was a young teen, visited for a week.  Sophie’s memory is that she herself was out of high school (she graduated at 15) and working, not yet in college, when this visit took place.  It may have been around the time that Freda graduated from grammar school.

This was the summary of what Sophie remembered and could tell me.  I may never learn anything more substantial about Harry and Nathan, but I’ve learned more about the Levines and about Sophie’s life.  Now that I’ve told it several times, and thought about it, I have more questions for her.  So I expect that I will be making another call soon.  This one will be a little easier to initiate since I don’t feel like Sophie is a stranger anymore.