My Autobiography by Michael Normandy, Sr.

 

The 1940 Federal Census

By April of 1940 according to the Census, Dad, Mom, my two sisters, and I were living at 621 Metropolitan Avenue, a 5-story walkup tenement house built in 1920. I'll let my sister Priscilla tell you about the census now and the information they asked for that year.

Hi, Priscilla here. The 1940 Federal Census of Brooklyn Borough, Kings County, New York, is the last one released to the public. It was supposed to reflect where a person lived on April 1, 1940. The pages our family were on show that the census taker visited us on April 16. We were in Enumeration District No. 24-1456.

In 1940, our 4th-floor apartment at 621 rented for $30. The purchasing power of $30 in 1940 would be equal to $514 now in 2016. However, our old apartment rents for about $2000 a month instead, much more than the inflation rate from 1940 to 2016 which is 1,613%! Go figure.

There were 87 people listed at that address before our names came up at the bottom of the page. Our family's listing continued on the next page.
Dad was listed as Silvestra Normandy instead of Sylvester Normandia which was his legal name. It was never changed legally. Grandpa Normandy ther used for a business name. Italian immigrants replaced Irish immigrants and were not respected so that's why Grandpa Michael changed it to Normandy, but only for a business name. Dad was 41 years old, a painting contractor who worked 40 weeks in 1939 and made $1600. According to the Inflation Calculator online, in today's money that would be $27,031, not bad since they had lived through the Great Depression and never went hungry like so many others did.

The census showed we were all born in New York and had lived at the same address in 1935 when the New York State Census was taken. I know for a fact that is not correct since I was born that year at 177 Maujer Street and by 1937 we lived at 199 Devoe Street.

The most confusing thing on the census about our Dad was that the census said the highest grade he had completed was in elementary school - 5th grade. That conflicts with the family story I heard so many times about our Dad walking four miles over the Williamsburg Bridge and back home, to go to Cooper Union, a free college where children of immigrants were welcome. It was in Manhattan on the Bowery between 3rd and 4th Avenues. The family story ends with Grandpa Michael Normandia telling Dad he couldn't continue at college because he needed him in the family house painting business, Normandy & Son, and he was the oldest son. Kids obeyed their parents back then and we knew better than to talk back to them!

Mom was listed as Lucille, her middle name. The "X" next to her name meant she was the one who gave the census taker the information for the family. I guess she never really liked her first name, Olympia. She was 37 and did not work outside the home at that time. Then comes the education issue again. Mom always told us when she was about to graduate from 8th grade, her father, Vincenzo Simonetti, went to school to take her out for good because she was 14 and old enough to get her working papers. Tough times! But she told the census taker her highest grade was elementary school -  6th grade. Hmm.

Next came our sister, Jean, who is listed as Angelina, a name she hated all her life because she was named after a dead person, Aunt Angelina Carmela, Grandpa's only sister. She was a teenager when she died just before Jean was born. Jean was 18 on the Census and had completed a year of high school. She work as a file clerk in a cork factory. Never heard that one before. She worked 30 hours in 1939 and earned $360.

On the next page, my brother Buddy (Michael) is listed as 14, attending school and had completed the first year of high school.

I was listed last, 4 years old and had not started school yet. There are 20 schools within a mile of 621 Metropolitan now, but the closest one is still only 0.1 miles away, PS 132 The Conselyea School. That's the elementary school which was an all girls school when I attended it from 1st grade to 6th grade. Our family may have moved often during the Great Depression, before I was born in 1935. Mom said they would pay the first month's rent on an apartment and couldn't pay the second month's rent so they had to move, again and again, making it necessary for Buddy and Jean to attend new schools.

However, we didn't move for ten years once we moved to 37 Conselyea Street. I am grateful I only had to go to one elementary school, one junior high, and one high school. Jean always said I was the lucky one because I missed the Great Depression. It really defined people's lives for several generations. We, the children (and later grandchildren) of Depression parents were brought up to be frugal. Our parents learned how good times could change overnight depending on things out of our control, like Wall Street! We were made to save money for a rainy day. Some of our older children picked up that trait from us but as time went on, the Depression became history in a textbook for the younger kids and they couldn't really relate to it.

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