I’m in the middle of a two week vacation on Fire Island. I have always enjoyed getting away to the beach and, in this way, I’m following in the footsteps of my ancestors. They mostly came from landlocked countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but once they got here they developed a love affair with the the ocean.
I came across a handful of old photos from a group outing to the Jersey Shore. They feature my grandparents Harry Agin and Anna Sabol Agin, along with their three children: Matilda (Tillie), my mother Lillian and Harry Jr. A few other women and girls – either relatives or family friends – also joined in the fun. From the ages of the children, I estimate that the photos were taken sometime around 1935.
I love these photos because they capture the simple pleasures of a family having fun on a summer afternoon. They’re the oldest family photos I have for the Agin family. But the photos also present an intriguing challenge: Just who were the other people pictured?
In this first image, one of my favorites, my grandmother Anna is posing with her three children. It shows Anna’s fun side as she pretends to push the oldest daughter Tillie out of the frame. Lillian clings to her mother’s hem while young Harry seems more interested in playing in the sand. Anna would have been around 30 years old.
In this zoomed in section from another photo, my very fit grandfather Harry (who would have been about 35 at the time) holds a fishing pole. He is posing with an unidentified woman brandishing a freshly caught fish. Could this be his older sister Ada, who was six years older than Harry and married to a man named James Cronen? Or maybe one of his several younger sisters? Or possibly one of Anna’s sisters?
In a third photo, my grandmother is sitting by herself on the sand. In the background, you can see people engaged in surf fishing (a family pastime that always bored me to death). It’s interesting to note that neither she or my grandfather wore a bathing suit. Except for the black hair, my grandmother looked and dressed the same 50 years later.
My Aunt Tillie got her own close up in the photo below. She looks like a bit of a tomboy here. In ten years’ time, she would grow into a beautiful young woman who competed as Miss New Jersey in the 1945 Miss America pageant. The winner was Bess Myerson, the first Jewish woman to bear the title, which was viewed as a civil rights breakthrough much as Vanessa Williams’ victory did.
Once again, we see that the beach was abuzz with activity, mostly of the fishing variety. Perhaps fishing was more than a hobby in those days. In the middle of the Great Depression, it was an opportunity to score a free dinner.
And finally, in the photo below, some women and children pose for a group shot. They range in age. My grandmother Anna is standing in the back, wearing the white dress (she’s the only one not in a bathing suit). Next to her is the same woman who posed with my grandfather. The small children, from left to right, are Harry Jr., Lillian, Tillie and an unidentified little girl on the far right. The two seated women are also unidentified.
So who might these other women be? The candidates include my grandfather’s sisters:
- Ada Agin Cronen, the oldest, who was born in 1894 and married James Cronen in 1920. The Cronens had two daughters: Hellen (born 1921) and May (born 1922) who would have been in the early teens at the time these photos were taken.
- Mary Agin (born 1904), who was four years younger than my grandfather. I have not found any evidence of her after the 1920 census.
- Mildred Agin (born 1911), who married Stanley Zielinski sometime between 1930 and 1940. The Zielinskis had no children.
- Lillian Agin (born 1914) who married Henry Baxter.
Or could these be some of my grandmother’s family? The candidates include:
- Elizabeth Sabol (born 1910). I have traced her through the 1930 census when she lived as a boarder with the Grieff family, which owned a confectioners in Somerville, N.J.
- Hermina Sabol (born 1912) whom I actually met about thirty years ago. She moved to California and may have married a band leader named Irvan Tonkins.
- Ruth Sabol (born 1914) who was still living with her widowed mother in the 1940 census.