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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The family mystery of sorts


I mentioned in an earlier post that my grandmothers family history revealed a bit of a mystery.  I wanted to explore that a little....

My grandmother was always fairly secretive about her family and her past.  She would lie, mislead, and otherwise obfuscate her past.  As I mentioned, her mother was around for most of my childhood, so I got some nuggets from her that help me understand this more, and raises more questions.

Here's the story: she was born in 1914 to an immigrant mother, and a father who had been in the country for one generation.  Her mother's lineage is easy enough to trace.  But her father is more of an enigma. 

She was born with a Jewish name, and it seems clear both of her parents were Jews.  But the mystery starts with a decision made in about 1930 when her father decided to change the family name.  Why then?  I realize there were always whispers of anti-semitism, but this was before the rise of Hitler.  And he was a painter by trade and a sometime semi-professional wrestler, so it seems mildly unlikely that his name would have cost him jobs.

And so far, I haven't found anything official about their name change.  Did they just adopt a new one?

My grandmother had once told me that her past was secret and her father told her never to speak of it.  Were they hiding?  Running?  Was there a simple explanation like his wrestling career would go farther with a name like "Field" ?

So here they were during the depression, living as best they could.  Then, he died in 1935.  My grandmother and her mother made ends meet however they could.  But they had literally nothing.  They boarded at various houses, they lived with relatives, they took whatever jobs they could.

My grandmother told me that she often would contrive something to try and get work - or outright lie at times.  That strikes me as an interesting piece of information.  She dropped out of high school to make a living.

A few years later, she met my grandfather.  What they had in common, I have no idea.  But the two of them, and her mother decided to board somewhere together to save money. 

And here's the next mystery.  She got married at some point, and had my dad.  In what order, and on what dates, is a little fuzzy.  She had documents that showed the dates, but we learned after she died that some of them were forged, or altered.  And some of them were based on earlier documents that had also been altered (more on that later).

In any case, at some point in the early 1940s, the 4 of them decided to move to Florida.  My grandmother .... hustled .... to make money.  My grandfather worked odd jobs, but mostly was a painter.  Later, my great grandmother moved out and it was just the three of them and a really bad marriage.

They divorced in the early 1950s, and my father bounced between the two of them.  But how they both managed to earn wages was another mystery.  My grandmother was the "entertainment coordinator" at one of the Miami Beach hotels in the heyday. 

And this is where the documents took an interesting turn.  She had a marriage certificate to her husband recreated that had some errors on it.  And she also filed a "delayed birth certificate" with the state of new york, which was wrong on a few counts, and listed her name as "Fields" (with an s), and some information that made it all seem legit. Both documents had raised seals, so how did she get these?  I know for a fact that she managed to change my father's date of birth on official documents - and that posed some issues when he applied for Social Security; his info simply didn't match.

And then she remarried.  A Cuban national, whose past is totally obscure.  She always said he was nefarious or something like that, so you have to wonder.  Then, there's the story about her having done jail time for attempting to commit arson to get insurance money.  She didn't own anything - who stood to benefit? 

While she was in jail, my dad lived with a great aunt in NY.  After she got out, my grandmother severed connections with her aunt?  Why?  What was happening there? 

Its a little odd.  The evidence here would suggest that my grandmother was a bit of a con artist, a grifter, someone who did whatever it took to make ends meet.  Who was she, really?

Later, she would marry a man who was a little older, who had been successful in retail.  They ran shops together, they travelled together, and for the first time she really didn't have to worry about money.  He left her enough to live on for a few years when he died.

The funny thing is that I recall his family didn't like her, particularly.  They accepted her, but questioned her motives. 

Some years later, she married for the 4th time, and this time it was a well-to-do widower.  She cared for him, and helped him lead a fun life in later years.  But his family hated her, and thought she was a gold digger. Could it be true?

I would suggest it was more happy accident.  She died with a little money, though, so her later years were comfortable.

So my questions are all around who she really was, why the name change, and how she made ends meet.

Its peculiar, I tell you.

And that's the mystery that was uncovered by simply doing a little genealogy. They say you can expect surprises. And I stumbled into one.

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