Monday, March 17, 2008

My 'Irish' Great Grandfather

To the left is a bio my great-grandfather Barney Newmark submitted to the North St. Louis Businessman's Association for their 1925 publication.

Are such bios trustworthy sources? Let's take a look.

Proprietor of a tailor shop, 1520 St. Louis avenue;

Native of Dublin, Ireland;
Attended public schools in Ireland;
Not quite. As I like to say, a suburb of Dublin, known as Warsaw. Google Maps will provide driving directions, and it will only take you 26 hours.

Student at Oxford;
Barney doesn't say "Oxford University" or "Oxford College". During the 14 years spent in London, England, he lived within walking distance of Oxford Street, and the Oxford Circus Railway Station. He was a student of life.

Learned the tailoring trade at the London Polytechnic, London, England;
For a while it was assumed this was also a stretch of his imagination. But I have learned that the London Polytechnic was the British equivalent of the YMCA, and they provided skills training to local youth. So there is a very good possibility this is true.

Everything after that is also true. So the only outright fib was his country of origin. There was a large Irish community in St. Louis, and my suspicion is that since "Barney" isn't an uncommon Irish name, many of his customers would ask him if he were Irish, and he finally decided to say "yes." (With his fourteen years in England as an explanation of the absence of the accent.)

He also would say that his birthday was March 17th. His birthday appears as April 14th on a few documents, but no birth certificate has been found.


Lidian said...

A perfect St. Patrick's Day post - that is really interesting...My great great uncle David Barnett lied on his passport application about where he was born (among other things).

Jasia said...

Thanks for the chuckle John! I like that one... "a suburb of Dublin known as Warsaw". What a hoot!

Anonymous said...

Wow, John, I guess that means I really am Irish after all since my ancestors came from the same suburb as yours! LOL

Anonymous said...

My grandfather Friesen claimed that the family came from Scotland, although simultaneously he knew they had lived in the Ukraine before emigrating to the United States and that they had moved to the Ukraine from near Dantzig. Nonetheless, he was convinced they came originally from Scotland in the 16th century (or so). He had no explanation for this claim, other than that he had been told this as family traditional knowledge. What he did not know was that the Scotland they came from was in fact a suburb of Dantzig called Schotland, outside the walls. Perhaps you should look into villages and neighborhood names around Warsaw to see if there's something similar to Dublin.

Anonymous said...

hmmm. Like Deblin, Poland, perhaps, which is only about 100 km from Warsaw. It's a fascinating possibility, thanks for suggesting it.

(Though my great-grandfather's claim he attended public schools in Ireland can't really be attributed to misunderstanding where the family 'came from'. But it might provide an explanation of where he came up with the idea for the fib.)