My niece sent me a copy of two pages from the 1940 U.S. Census. On one page is the report on my father’s family. His family all lived in my grandparents’ home on Beckman Avenue in Cleveland. My father, who was 25 at the time, answered the census taker’s questions. He and my mother (married in 1937) were living on the second floor of the home. They had an eight-month-old little girl, Mary Ann, my sister. My grandparents lived downstairs with their remaining five children, ranging in age from 24 to 15.
The house was owned by my grandparents and valued at $2,000. My parents were paying $22 a month rent. My 52-year-old grandfather is listed as a carpenter making $1800 a year. Born in Czechoslovakia, he is a naturalized citizen with a 7th grade education. My 50-year-old grandmother, listed as “alien,” also has a 7th grade education. My father, a high school graduate, was earning $1500 a year as a bottler in a brewery.
My niece sent me the report on my mother’s side of the family too, the Mach’s, who were living on West 45th Street in Cleveland. My grandfather was a bricklayer earning $1800 a year. He had become a naturalized citizen (we still have that document), but my grandmother never did. Both had 5th grade educations. Their two sons are 23 and 16. The oldest is a bricklayer apprentice.
I love this little window into history. It reminds me that my family is relatively “new” to this country. In contrast, I have a friend who traces her family all the way back to the Mayflower! But my ancestors didn’t come here until the turn of the 20th century. Born in Bohemia, they immigrated here at young ages. Two were only teenagers when they landed on Ellis Island. They never saw their parents again. What courage that took! Once here my grandparents struggled to learn a new language, find jobs, and raise their families.
Knowledge of my family’s humble beginnings influences some of my attitudes and beliefs. For example, I admire people who speak with foreign accents, for my grandparents did too. A foreign accent means the person knows more than one language. Having struggled to learn Latin and German, I admire anyone who knows more than one language. I also try to be respectful of people who hold so-called “menial jobs.” As young girls, both my grandmothers cleaned houses. I have some definite attitudes toward immigration too simply because so many of my own relatives were immigrants. How could I forget that?
When my grandparents came to this country they brought their Catholic faith with them. They worked hard to build their churches (St. Adalbert and St. Procop). They sent their children to their parish schools and then on to high school to get the education they never had. I am grateful for the faith I inherited from them as well as my love for and dedication to education.
I think knowledge of our own history makes us richer and wiser. Today might be a good day to thank God for all those individuals who have gone before us and helped make us who we are.