Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Summer of 1934

When Elizabeth O'Neal suggested a Genealogy Blog Party, I was all in.   (Thanks, Elizabeth!) The theme for the opening party was to create a time machine to visit an ancestor.  I truly did not feel there was any one ancestor in particular that stood out over the others, so I decided to sit this one out.

Then, later on in the week, I remembered The Diary...

Yes, it's a diary with the whole summer ripped out of the center.  Not ripped, exactly, more like surgically removed with a sharp instrument.    I immediately knew that if I could get that time machine, I'd zip back to 1934 and see what was going on for myself.  I'd try to become my grandmother's new best friend and confidante.

Yes, that diary belonged to my grandmother, Lillian Christensen, and anyone who knew her knew she could keep a secret, and take it to the grave if she had to.  And obviously that's what she chose to do with the Summer of 1934.  That block of time has been neatly removed from her life as if it never happened - May 5 through August 31.  Whatever she was up to, she didn't want anyone to know about it.  But why didn't she just destroy the whole diary, instead of leaving this blatant gaping hole in the middle?

Because she wanted to torment me for being so nosey, that's why.

My grandfather often told the story of how he and Lillian "claimed each other" in third grade (or was it second?)  Once they laid eyes on each other, the rest was history, he said, neither of them ever looked at anyone else.  Grandma never said anything while he was telling the story of his youthful little heart going pitter-patter at the mere sight of her.  But then, Grandma's lack of involvement wouldn't have been surprising.  He was the storyteller, she was the practical one.   I never gave it a second thought... until now.

All I really knew of Grandma's young adulthood was that she was a nanny for awhile, then worked in the office of a government agency, and at some point had her own apartment.   I had no timeline for any of these events.

Thanks to old newspapers, city directories, and the diary, I've been able to put together some of the story.  Her diary begins in January, with her living with the Hansowitz family, caring for the children and helping out around the house.  She is dating my grandfather at the time, and makes references to what they're doing on the weekends.  She was also doing office work during the day, and may have been working through a government program, as she mentions being shuffled from the court house to the post office and back again.  And that's where the diary ends.

She must have gotten a permanent position at the U. S. Crop Allotment Office shortly thereafter.  In early June of 1934, Huron Construction Co. placed the following advertisement in the local newspaper:

Lillian Christensen is listed in the 1934 Huron City Directory with an address of 425 Wisconsin av. SW.

Lillian, on the roof of her apartment.

So, I know exactly where she worked, and approximately when she started there.  I know exactly where her apartment was, and I know her job must have been permanent or she never would have gotten her own place.  (Yes, Grandma, I did listen to everything you told me on that subject).  And while I still don't know exactly what she was up to during those missing four months, I'm getting a pretty good idea of the situation.  Oh, did I mention that the letters she'd written back and forth with my grandfather have a huge gap after April of 1934?

I'm going to keep going through her papers and letters looking for clues I overlooked.  And I WILL figure this out, if there's any way possible.

I'll bet she's terribly amused by all this...


  1. Oh my! That is too funny! My dad burned all the letters he and my mom wrote back and forth for two years before they got married. Sooo curious about those too. Nice work connecting the newspapers ad and city directory.

  2. Hi Nicole,
    Couldn't you just scream at the thought of those letters going up in flames? Argh! Thanks for dropping by, and for leaving a comment.

  3. How wonderful that you have your grandmother's diary, even with its missing pages. And the bits and pieces you've found from newspapers and the city directory at least provide a backdrop for that period in your grandmother's life. Do you suppose she might be mentioned in newspaper stories during that time? If so, the story might include of names of some of her friends and acquaintances. Good luck with your research on this topic.

  4. I really like this post, Karen. It's great to have your grandmother's journal, and oh-so-sad to have pages missing. Did she have any brothers or sisters and, if so, are they still living? Maybe they would remember what might have been going on in her life in 1934.

    Like you, I sometimes imagine my ancestors chuckling as they see what I'm doing....

    1. Hi Nancy! Unfortunately her last sister passed away about a year ago. Grandma might have gotten the last laugh!