Tuesday, June 11, 2013

life in clippings: name changes and sloppy census work

if you've ever looked up people in the US censuses (censes?) of the late 19th century you will notice that census workers did not appear to have practiced especial diligence in writing properly the names of poor people and immigrants.

operating here is both the idea that it just isn't that important to be certain of the proper names and spellings, but also that it may have been difficult to understand the heavily accented speech of new immigrants.

there are also the twin problems of nonstandard spellings and name changes.

standard spellings are a relatively new thing in written language, if they ever even really arrived at all. so a person may have spelled his or her own name several ways over the course of a life or even an afternoon.

and an immigrant may over time change the spelling of a perfectly good name just to make it more pronounceable in the new home country.

with the mintzes how they are named in the census contributes a little to the picture, so i want to tell you about it.

in the 1880 US census, ben's wife is given as "fanny r. mintz", but in the 1900 census she is "rachel f. mintz". the 1905 new york state census lists her as "racheal mintz", and  by the 1910 US census she's "rachel mintz"

i think she makes the shift from "fanny" to "rachel" to reflect her growing maturity and dignity in the world. her preferred form of adress seems to be "mrs. ben mintz", and that's how she appears in nearly every print mention, even after she is widowed.

the children's names as the census years pass reflect both the growth of the family and sometimes their outgrowing of baby names.

here's the listing of the children according to census year:

  • 1880 - ettie, harry
  • 1900 - ester, aaron, jacob, gussie, lawrence, leinl
  • 1905 - esther, jay, gustave, lawrence, lionel
  • 1910 - etta, gus, lawrence, lionel
  • 1920 - esther, august, terrence
huh? terrence? 

sloppy work. that's just lawrence. you can see the children grow up and move out in the list. you can't see ruby here at all and if we didn't have her headstone, we wouldn't know her name at all. and somewhere in a census form it is reported that rachel is the mother of nine, but seven children survive. i am guessing it is probably true that there are two infants who do not even make it onto the census lists.

esther seems to go by the name "etta", or "miss etta mintz" until the day she dies.

jay is a bit of a mystery to me. he may actually be named jacob, but his name is given in various sources as "jacob", jay", "jay jerome", "j. jerome", jerome", "jerome jay", "jerome j.", and "j.j.". additionally, while we can trace his year of graduation from cornell and some of his employment, he is the child of whom comparatively nothing is written.

he wants, i think, to be hidden from view either because he is the odd man out in this family or this town or because he is a private person and does not wish to have his comings and goings listed in the social pages.

they are both plausible explanations.  his many shifts of name suggest to me that he is maybe not entirely comfortable in one persona, maybe not entirely comfortable in his own skin. 

he seems to have been be a successful adult, so i hope at least he was happy.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails