My dad’s household in the 1940 census

I took my first peek at the 1940 census. The government released it last week after a 72 year privacy restriction was lifted and it’s all up on the ancestry.com site. It will take some time before all 132 million records are indexed and searchable by name, but with a little poking around I was able to find my father’s family.

On Census Day, April 1, 1940, there were eleven people in Kowal household, living in a two-bedroom house at 29 Storer Avenue in the Charleston section of Staten Island. These include my grandparents Alex and Katarzyna (Katherine) Kowal, their seven children and two lodgers. My Uncle Walter explained that all nine members of the Kowal family occupied one bedroom while the lodgers, who brought in needed income, had the other.

On the front stoop of the Kowal household at 29 Storer Avenue, Staten Island. Front row: Walter and Stella Kowal. Middle row: Helen Kowal (left) and three unidentified females. Back row: Katarzyna (Katherine) Kowal in shadow and my father Anton Kowal. Photo taken in 1938.

The eleven enumerated inhabitants are spread over two separate pages. The data, collected in 34 separate columns, provide a huge amount of information, including answers to some questions I have been pondering for awhile.

1940 census record for the family of Alex and Katarzyna (Katherine) Kowal, Staten Island, New York. Click to enlarge.

You can find my grandparents on lines 74 and 75, near the bottom of the first page. Starting at the left, we see that they owned their home and that it was worth $5,000. It wasn’t the most expensive house in the neighborhood but it wasn’t the cheapest either.

According to the record, Alex was 47 years old, which is consistent with other records stating he was born in 1892. But I don’t have a birth record to verify it. Katherine gave her age as 46, but I know from my research that she was actually 50.

Unlike earlier censuses, which asked only if a person could read and write, the 1940 questionnaire asked how many years of education a person had. So know I know for the first time that my grandmother had eight years of schooling while my grandfather had none.

It’s interesting to see that both my grandparents listed Poland as their country of birth. In earlier censuses, my Polish grandmother said she came from Austria and my Ukrainian grandfather said he came from Russia. That was technically true; Poland didn’t exist when they emigrated to America. But after World War I, my grandmother’s hometown of Zalozce and my grandfather’s village of Kharucha Vel’ka found themselves within the borders of the newly reconstituted Polish state. But sadly, by the time the 1940 census was conducted, Poland was once again wiped off the map. When the Nazis and the Soviets invaded in September 1939, my grandparents’ hometowns ended up inside the borders of Soviet Ukraine.

The record indicates, correctly, that Alex had applied for naturalization. He was part of a huge wave of naturalizations spurred by the war in Europe and the passage of the 1940 Alien Registration Act. Katherine was still listed as an alien. As far as I know, she never became a U.S. citizen.

Alex was working at the time as a hat finisher at a factory in Perth Amboy, just across the river in New Jersey. (I know from his naturalization papers and World War II draft registration card that he worked for the Amboy Hat Company at 224 Smith Street, owned by a Mr. Irving Hutt.) Over the prior year, Alex worked 47 weeks at an annual wage of $900. He also earned at least $950 from a source other than wages (see column 33). This was presumably rent from the two lodgers. Katarzyna was a homemaker.

All seven of my grandparents’ children were living at home at the time: my father Anton, listed incorrectly as Anthony (22 years old), Mary (2o), Nellie (18), Helen (16), Joseph (14), Stella (10) and Walter (8).

The three oldest – Anton, Mary and Nellie – all graduated from high school and worked to bring in money for the family. Anton and Mary worked at the Amboy Hat Factory along with their father. Nellie worked as a bookkeeper for a “retail auto showroom.”

At the hat factory, Anton worked as a machine operator and made $500. Mary was a hat trimmer, making $625. I wonder why she made more than her older brother. Was Anton, who was deaf, given a less skilled job? Or did Mary, who appears to have left high school after only one year, have seniority? Neither position seemed secure, in any event. On line 23, it says they both were looking for work. Nellie’s job must have been brand new. She didn’t make any income in the previous year.

Three of the four youngest children were still in school. Helen was a high school junior, Joseph was in the seventh grade and Walter was in the second grade. The form does not say whether 10 year old Stella was in school. She had Down’s syndrome so it’s possible she didn’t have the opportunity.

The two lodgers were Konrad Kalinsky and John Mazur, both from Poland and both 50 years old. They worked in a copper refinery – probably the nearby Nassau Smelting Co. plant – where they earned $1,250. Both men reported working 52 weeks over the prior year.

I wrote about Konrad in an earlier post. I theorized that he may have been the same Konrad who traveled with my grandfather from Libau, Latvia to Halifax, Nova Scotia in October 1912, sailing on the S.S. Kursk. Alex and Konrad, along with two other friends, spent the winter working in a logging camp in Thetford Mines, Quebec before crossing into this country in March 1913. Their destination was Kreischerville, New York (also known as Charleston, Staten Island) where they were to meet up with a friend named Nestor Grushewsky.

That same Nestor was still in the picture too. You can find him on line 71 of the first sheet (the name is spelled wrong) living in the house next door along with his wife Vera and a lodger. It’s fascinating to think that Alex, Konrad and Nestor were all living in such close proximity 27 years later after their journey from the old country (and intriguing to know that the relationship between the neighbors was far from harmonious).

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4 Responses to My dad’s household in the 1940 census

  1. Pingback: My mother’s family in the 1940 census | John Kowal's Family History Blog

  2. Valerie Mescia Donnelly says:

    Hi John:

    I am Valerie Mescia, daugther of Olga Gruhewky Mescia. My Mothers parents, Honora & Nestor Gruhewsky, lived at 27 Storer Ave, next to your family
    Valerie Mescia Donnelly.

  3. johnkowal says:

    Hi Valerie,
    I remember meeting your mother Olga when I was young. At my grandfather’s funeral she made a big point of telling me he was Ukrainian, not Polish – which was news to me. Turns out she was right!
    I hope you saw my other posts about Nestor Grushewsky and his connection to my grandfather going back to the old country. I heard from a Rob Mescia too who I’m guessing is your son.
    I’d love to chat more. You can write me at johnkowal@mac.com.
    John

  4. Pingback: My father’s childhood home in a 1940 tax photo | John Kowal's Family History Blog

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