April 6th, 2012

Great Uncle Harry

When I was about 15, or perhaps 16 years old, in that very American rite of passage, I got a learner's permit and spent probably the most time alone with my father that I ever had (or ever would). My mother didn't drive, so he got to sit in the passenger seat and tell me what to do. In his favor, he kept his temper quite well. On the other hand, I was the third daughter he'd done this with, so he'd had some practice. Also, most indications are that I was the least provoking of the three daughters he taught to drive. My eldest sister had a variety of undiagnosed motor and sensory issues. The next down was reckless.

My father, like most of us, when presented with nothing else in particular to do, would talk. For reasons best known to him (but possibly involving the death of his own father a very few years before), he told me a few stories about his father and how he came to America. This was when I learned that "Grampa Sam" was actually Simon, and that his brother "Harry", who came to America first and encouraged his younger brother Sam to follow him, was named Hein. My father neglected to mention the rest of their siblings who remained behind in the Netherlands; I don't know if he even knew about them.

When I eventually traveled back to visit family in the Netherlands, one of them had a question for me. What happened to Harry's daughter? It was this question which sent me to Ancestry.com (along with some others, but especially this one). I learned all kinds of things about Harry: the boat he came over on, the woman he married, the name of his daughter, the man she married (where his family was buried) the children they had (one of whom I connected with on FB), etc. But I had a lot of trouble finding Harry in the US census. _Any_ US census. Since he arrived in 1913, I should have been able to find him in 1920 and 1930 (and now in 1940).

Yesterday, it occurred to me to try a different search than I had been trying. I replaced Hein's detailed birth information with just a year and "Holland", rather than the place, province and "Netherlands". I removed all family information from the search. And I searched on "Harry Smith", the name I knew he adopted, but which some family lore claimed his wife had urged upon him. I didn't really believe that family lore, because my dad's story about Sam arriving in America had him calling Simon "Sam" more or less from the day he arrived, "to be American". Even tho he wouldn't marry until after 1920, I was betting he would be "Harry Smith" in the 1920 census. Also, I knew he wasn't living with his brother, because I already had him as a boarder elsewhere. I knew that the Harry Smith I was looking for would not be living with any relations.

With that approach, Harry was easy to find. There he was, in 1920, living a few doors down from the girl who would become his wife a few years later. At this point, I told R. that Harry was creeping me out: his future wife is listed as 12 that year, and there he is, 27. Yikes.

Knowing that the child they had would be living with relatives on her mother's side in the 1930 census, I looked for him in Seattle (where immigration paperwork said he was in 1931): again, a lodger, again, Harry Smith, this time from "Netherlands", within a mile of where I knew he would be a year later. Best of all, the man his daughter would marry in the 1940s was living within a mile as well.

The prospect of digging through a sizeable Seattle ED in 1940 in hopes of spotting "Harry Smith" is a little daunting, but I am looking for his daughter's then-future husband and his family. There is a group of them and their last name is distinctive, and in 1930, they were surrounded by fellow Turkish immigrants. Weirdly, just as those in-laws overwhelmingly are buried across the street from the house I grew up, north of Seattle in what is now Shoreline, in the 1930s, Harry and his daughter's future family-by-marriage are all living roughly halfway between the condo I bought on Cap Hill, and the apartment I lived in for a year and a half around the time my son was born.

At least the ground is familiar to me.

ETA: Grumble. I've found the address where the family was in 1930 and they aren't there in 1940. This is not surprising, but still.