Finding Uncle Shimon Goldstein

Shimon was the first Goldstein (Goldshtern) to arrive in the US and has proven to be elusive, until now.  All my father Isadore could tell me was that he was a house painter, had at least two children and divorced his wife Gittel because “she was a nag.”  Though my father and his father Sol stayed with Shimon and Gittel for a while after Dad’s mother killed herself, we never met him nor his family.  To me, this family had neither substance nor reality, nothing to make them real.  Recent research, however, is beginning to fill in some blanks.

Initially all I could find was the 1905 New York State Census, where Shimon was listed living at 95 Henry Street, 27 years old, in the US for four years, from Russia, still an alien and a housepainter.  Gittel was 22, also from Russia and an alien, a housewife, and had been in the US less than a year.  The trail stopped with this census; searching on “Shimon” and “Gittel,” as they were listed in the 1905 Census, yielded nothing.

Dad said that Uncle Shimon’s kids were Frieda and Solly; he thought there were two more but couldn’t remember their names.  Solly was a gangster (more on him later and elsewhere) in Murder, Inc.

So I searched for Frieda and found the family in the 1930 US Census; I felt like I’d hit the jackpot!  Shimon was listed as “Sam” and Gittel as “Sussie,” which is clearly a transcription error and should read “Gussie;” indeed, she is “Gussie” in other documents.  Now that I knew these name changes, I had more  success finding the family in various censuses, though I’m still looking for the 1925 NY State Census and the 1940 Federal Census:

  • 1910 US Census:  127 Forsythe St., Manhattan; Simon (28), Gussie (25), Rose (5), Max (2) and a nephew, Morris Greenstein (22), who was a carpenter.  Simon was listed as arriving in 1901 and Gussie in 1905.  My guess is that Morris was Gussie’s nephew.
  • 1915 New York State Census:  74 Delancey St., Manhattan; Sam (30), Gussie (28), Rosie (9), Max (7), Ida (5), Sam (2) and a boarder, Max Swartz (50).  Sam (Simon) had been in the country 15 years, Gussie for ten, and was a citizen.
  • 1920 US Census:  39 Suffolk St., Manhattan; Sam (38), Gussie (35), Rose (14), Max (12), Ida (10), Sollie (8) and Frieda (4).  Both Sam and Gussie were listed as having immigrated in 1901.
  • 1930 US Census:  282 South Street, Brooklyn; Sam (53), Gussie (45), Max (22), Ida (19), Saul (17) and Frieda (12).  Max and Saul were both housepainters/decorators like their father and Ida worked in “advertising.” The immigration date for Sam was listed as 1897 and for Gussie, 1905.

Now we know that there were actually five children:  Rose, Max, Ida, Saul/Sollie and Frieda.  Rose is not listed in the 1930 US Census, but by then she would have been about 25 years old and likely was living elsewhere, either boarding, married or even deceased. The date for Sam’s naturalization, when given, was consistently 1909, so finding his Naturalization papers is high on my research agenda. On every census Sam is listed as a “painter” or “housepainter,” and his sons appear to have followed in his footsteps.

The fact that the immigration dates and children’s names vary from census to census is irrelevant; census takers wrote down whatever the informant (the person who answered the questions) told them.  People didn’t always know precise answers, or forgot, or guessed.  Children’s names changed as they grew older and Americanized their names, and those American versions often changed from document to document.  In those days people simply changed what they called themselves and didn’t go through any legal process to do so.

So far, I haven’t found a record of any divorce, which doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.

So finally, the family of my grandfather’s brother Shimon is starting to take shape.  At this point the only other details I have concern our gangster cousin, Solomon (aka Saul/Sol/Sollie) Goldstein, which I’ll write about in a future post.