Monday, May 24, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Interview with Melvin Lester Newmark - December 1987

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.

This week I begin the transcription of an interview of my paternal grandfather. In 1987, a professional oral historian was hired to conduct individual interviews with my grandparents. My paternal grandfather, Melvin Lester Newmark, was 75 years old at the time of his interview.

Below are the first ten minutes.

Note: I have contacted the oral historian, and while she thinks what I am doing is great, she desires not to be identified.

Interviewer: It's December 23, 1987 and I’m at the office of Melvin Newmark. What is your full name?
Melvin: Melvin initial L like in Lester Newmark
Interviewer: But it isn’t really Lester
Melvin: It is Lester
Interviewer: Oh, it is Lester…when were you born?
Melvin: August 27, 1912
Interviewer: Where?
Melvin: St. Louis, Missouri
Interviewer: In what spot?
Melvin: Oh, Page – my mother pointed it out to me – on Page and Hamilton, somewhere around there.
Interviewer: In a house?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: At home?
Melvin: Not at a hospital.
Interviewer: Were you named after anyone?
Melvin: Moshe Leyb. The Cruvant family, that’s my mother’s maiden name, is absolutely covered with Moshe Leybs because that was the name of my grandfather, my mother’s father, so almost everybody who had a son named him Moshe Leyb or Morris.
Interviewer: They just did that. Alright, and then were given an anglicized?
Melvin: Yeah, became Melvin or Lester or Louis – all kinds of names. There aren’t too many Melvins. I don’t think there’s another Melvin.
Interviewer: Alright, tell me about your father, what was his name?
Melvin: Barney Newmark
Interviewer: Barney, really Barney?
Melvin: Well, sometimes he said he may have been called Barnet, but he wasn’t sure.
Interviewer: When was he born?
Melvin: I had it written down here some place, but I don’t have it really convenient
Interviewer: Okay, we’ll get back to that. Where was he born?
Melvin: He always said he was born in London England; I think I have learned recently that he was really probably born in Poland and got to London England when he was three or four years old. That’s when his parents migrated to London. And he stayed in London until he was about twenty, when he came to St. Louis.
Interviewer: What do you know about his parents?
Melvin: Not too much. I remember them well and vividly. His father was a very mild, meek, thin little hard working man, and his mother. His father, by the way was Sam
Interviewer: Sam or Samuel?
Melvin: Samuel Newmark. Or Shmuel was what they called him. His mother was Rose, and she was a very very large, husky women. Very strong. Both in voice and mannerisms.
Interviewer: So she was the more dominant one?
Melvin: I think so, yes.
Interviewer: And you think they came from some part of Russia?
Melvin: Somewhere Poland or Russia. Very very unclear, my father never talked about it. He didn’t want to be identified that way.
Interviewer: His life for him started in London?
Melvin: He was an Englishmen until the day of his death.
Interviewer: Through and Through?
Melvin: Absolutely.
Interviewer: Do you know why they came to England?
Melvin: Yes, the same reason they came to the United States. To make a living. They left Poland because they were starving. They lived in England, and while my father never stopped bragging about England, and London, and the British Empire, he confessed that he left because it became very hard to make a living.
Interviewer: Times were hard?
Melvin: Yes. Look, I just talked just this morning with somebody in the office who claimed he was born in Dublin, Ireland. He claims he knew my family in Dublin. My father did go to Dublin at one time. And there may be some Newmark family there.
Interviewer: As a young man he might have gone to Dublin?
Melvin: Yes. As he lived in London, and it wasn’t too big of a trip. Or he may have been joking. I never knew when my father was joking. He was a big joker.
Interviewer: Story teller.
Melvin: Oh, yeah. He loved stories.
Interviewer: So we have this Newmark couple living in London. What did Samuel do?
Melvin: He was a tailor. Everybody in the world was a tailor.
Interviewer: So, he was…was his son, your father a tailor?
Melvin: Yes. They had four sons, four daughters. Three sons were tailors. The fourth was a baby when they came to the United States. He was maybe four years old. Tailoring was the only way


Interviewer: Was their trade.
Melvin: Right.
Interviewer: So, your father obviously had these brothers, what were their names?
Melvin: The oldest was Sol, I don’t think it was Solomon, it was just Sol. My father was the second oldest. Next oldest of his sons was Max, and the youngest was “Buddy” or “I. D.” Israel David.
Interviewer: The girls were interspersed?
Melvin: Inbetween there were four girls born
Interviewer: And they were?
Melvin: The oldest was...
Interviewer: We’ll come back, I’ll ask you later. Then?
Melvin: After that…Nellie!..Nellie Fudemberg was the oldest girl. And Katie. I’m trying to think of Katie’s married name right now, but I will before the interview ends. After Katie came…
Interviewer: We’ll get her later. This was a large family for Samuel to provide for in London, England.
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: Did they learn English in England?
Melvin: None of them spoke in anything but English. Except my grandmother who never spoke anything except Yiddish until her dying day.
Interviewer: So she, because she wasn’t in business, didn’t have to make the effort.
Melvin: She spoke only Yiddish. Everybody else spoke fluent English. They went to school in London.
Interviewer: They all went to school? What do you know about school for your dad?
Melvin: Well, it depends on whether you want to know the truth. My father had a great sense of humor.
Interviewer: The truth.
Melvin: The truth is he probably finished grade school or the equivalent.
Interviewer: In a normal school?
Melvin: Right.
Interviewer: But not a Jewish school?
Melvin: Yes, I think it was. I don’t think there were any other kind of schools, were there?
Interviewer: Well, yeah, for the Englishmen.
Melvin: Well, maybe so, I don’t know.
Interviewer: He didn’t talk too much about that?
Melvin: No, not too much. Although he was well read. He was an avid reader. I think he read everything that was ever printed.
Interviewer: Well, he was a bright person.
Melvin: I hope you’re right. I think he was. He was well read. He was not illiterate.
Interviewer: Did he go to work for his dad?
Melvin: They worked for the same people, the same company. They started out in life doing that kind of work, busheling work, laboring work. Later they all had stores of their own. In St. Louis there were a number of different stores. Each son had a store, the father had a store.
Interviewer: Let’s stay in England for a minute. As you understand it they worked for someone else in England?
Melvin: Yes.
Interviewer: And what does Busheling mean?
Melvin: Repair or altering.
Interviewer: Oh it does? It’s a new word for me.
Melvin: Where does it come from?
Interviewer: We’ll have to look it up. So, as the boys grew up you assume they had to all go to work?
Melvin: They all worked.
Interviewer: Right. And your grandma just took care of the children?
Melvin: That’s right.
Interviewer: Did your dad talk about where they lived?
Melvin: Oh yes. Whitechapel is a name that stands in my mind. He spoke of it often. Some of my cousins have even gone over to London to try to find the place. I have too. None of us have had any luck. We’ve learned it has been destroyed by WWII. The whole area. I’ve been there now several times, and the bombing destroyed that area. Now it’s a bad neighborhood now, but it’s new, new cheap buildings.
Interviewer: Not like the old days?
Melvin: No. But it was an old tenement house area.
Interviewer: Where immigrants would have moved to?
Melvin: Right
Interviewer: Who didn’t have a lot of money at the time.
Melvin: There were poor people
Interviewer: So you say your father started working while he was still in England?
Melvin: While he was probably 12-15 years old, somewhere in there.
Interviewer: Did he talk about the trip to the US?
Melvin: Yes, they came here twice. He and his father and his older brother Sol, made the trip first. I think they went to Winnipeg Canada, found it to be too cold, then to Memphis and found it to be too hot, so they settled on St. Louis. Either they then sent for the rest of the family, or they went back and brought the family back. The family I mean the mother and younger sisters and brothers.


1) I'm happy that I'm not completely reliant on this interview for a lot of information. My grandfather's age, combined with my great grandfather's ability to tell fanciful stories, leads to a lot of fuzziness.

The Newmark family's time in England is well documented, with each birth recorded in the UK BMD, along with a marriage, and the 1901 census. There were children born to Samuel and Rose in 1894, 1896, and 1903. Sol was married in 1902, and he and his wife had children in 1904, 1905 and 1906. However, during the five years between 1896 and 1901, it's possible, though unlikely, that the Newmark family could have left London briefly. Any Newmarks my grandfather's co-worker ran into in Dublin are likely only distantly related if at all.

Migration to the US took place in several stages between 1907 and 1909. There is evidence from passenger manifests that my grandfather is correct, and Winnipeg and Memphis were tried out first.

2) Between 1894 and 1896, the Newmark family was in the London district of St. Giles. Between 1901 and 1903 they were in the St. Marylebone district. Between 1905 and 1906 Sol's family was living in St. Pancras, and then Whitechapel. So while it appears they remained in London, they moved around a fair amount, which isn't unusual for families who are struggling economically, and might not be able to afford the rent.

3) Samuel and Rose's youngest son, Israel David, was one year older than Sol's eldest. He was likely a 'happy surprise.' Since he was of similar age to the next generation, he was given the nickname "Uncle Buddy" which stuck with him the rest of his life. He lived to be 101.

4) There is a common misperception today that immigrants in the 19th century and early 20th century all immediately learned English upon their arrival. My great great grandmother was approximately 27 years old when she migrated to England, and spent 15 years there before migrating to the US, and still she always spoke Yiddish.

5) Samuel was born in Warka, Poland, just outside of Warsaw. (Or at least that is what his naturalization papers say.) It's likely the family originally came from the Neumark region of Germany, which was only about 300 miles away, and became part of Poland after 1945.

1 comment:

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

I have joined you in Amanuensis Monday and will continue to post accordingly every Monday! I love this idea and have lots of things to transcribe!