Former New York Mayor Ed Koch hit the jackpot when it came to his family history, which is contained in all three censuses _ the federal one, as well as the New York ones from 1915 and 1925.
The 87-year-old Koch participated in a preview search conducted by Ancestry.com, which is making all three census records available online.
His said his father came from Europe, alone at age 16, eventually raising a family in a Bronx apartment. For years, “I told people that we lived in abject poverty,” he said. A series of census records from the time would prove him wrong.
They showed that the Depression-era rent for the Kochs’ five-room Bronx apartment was $75 a month, “and that was a lot of money at the time,” Koch said.
“All my life, I was telling people I was very poor, but I learned we did not live in abject poverty; I was born into a middle-class family,” he said.
The New York world of the 1940 census includes names that later became famous, including Katharine Hepburn, John D. Rockefeller Jr., J.D. Salinger, Kennedy and Ella Fitzgerald.
The 1940 census by name index will be available for all states possibly as early as this fall.
While New York is the biggest state whose census records are already name-indexed, a number of smaller states also have been made name-accessible by Ancestry.com and two other companies, FamilySearch.org and MyHeritage.com.
New York state censuses for 1915 and 1925 are available online for the first time via a link that says “find family history for free” to anyone providing a New York ZIP code and email address.
The state censuses show “every New Yorker from the famous to the infamous to everybody in between,” said Kathleen Roe, director of archives and records management at the New York State Archives.
A perfect example of this melting pot is Babe Ruth, who appeared in the 1925 census as “George H. Ruth” and listed his occupation as “Base Ballplayer.” He was living by the Grand Concourse near Yankee Stadium, which would later be dubbed “The House That Ruth Built.” The Ruth family neighbor was Joseph Weinstock, an Austrian immigrant working in manufacturing and his Russian-born wife, the census shows.
“So here was the future American baseball hero living next door to an immigrant family making it in the United States,” Roe said. “What a great American story! And that’s what you can find out walking through a neighborhood with census records.”
The censuses released this week offer “one of the greatest collections of historic voices you’ll ever find,” said Roe, adding that if read together, they trace whole families as they move around.
The census data also include such information as occupation, whether immigrants were naturalized citizens, and whether they owned or rented their homes _ in other words, sketches of communities, said David M. Kleiman, president of Heritage Muse Inc., a New York-based genealogy technology firm.
“What we’re all looking for is the story of the family _ what made my grandparents the way they were, which made my parents the way they were, which made me what I am,” he said.