Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Genealogy Bleg

Here's an invitation to give me some free knowledge/advise on an issue of genealogy.  I've done a bit of desultory inquiry into the particulars about my ancestors though I have to admit that I haven't worked that hard at it.

Anyway, the topic is occupations, particularly labor, particularly skilled labor.  Start with my father's family. They were hill-country Yankees from Central New Hampshire, i.e., in and around Newbury.  I've more or less assumed they were farmers (what else was there?)  though I do remember being told that my father's own father was a shoe worker. And by all accounts, a successful one.  It is said that he wore a white shirt to work--same shirt all week different collar each of six days.  My father, who had modest white-collar (!) jobs once told me that his father the shoe worker probably earned more money (inflation adjusted) in the 20s than he, my father, earned in the 50s.

Meanwhile my mother's family were Swedish immigrants.  Her mother's parents (my great-grandparents) fetched up in Rhode Island a bit before 1870.  Rhode Island?  An odd place for a Swedish immigrant?  The thing I heard when young was "well, we knew people there."   But I think I may have a better answer: velvet mills.  From what I read, there were indeed mills for the production of velvet in that part of the world.   Pressing out into uncharted territory, I gather that the manufacture of velvet was a high-skill occupation.  I'm, wondering if it might have been the kind of trade for which the Americans actually recruited--in the sense of "paid the freight of"--European immigrants.  Actually, the Swedish GGF died after just a few years, but the family seems to have held onto a modest respectability notwithstanding.

This version puts both my Yankee grandfather and my Swedish great-grandfather in factory jobs where they made pretty good money.   I once said "artisan labor," but I don't think that would be right.   Not artisans but I gather there were some factory jobs where you needed reasonably skilled factory hands, as distinct from artisans.

Can anyone enlighten  me further?  I know that most genealogy is fantasy and I know that right now I am spinning threads out of my own gizzard, but I'd be delighted to pin down a more granular account if anybody can offer one.

3 comments:

Sean Duggan said...

Well there were skilled factory jobs. I had immigrant relatives who held such jobs in Connecticut and Pittsburgh in the 19th century. The ironworks in Pittsburgh certainly recruited skilled workers in South Wales but there was also chain-migration. Having a skilled factory job wasn't incompatible with having gone to Rhode Island because you knew someone there.

The New York Crank said...

The truth of the matter is, jobs in general a half century ago paid better than most jobs today – with the exception of top management jobs and bank and hedge fund work

My father made $17,000 in each of his three best years as a liquor salesman. My mother was a substitute school teacher who taught only enough days a year (ten, I think) to keep her license.

We , my parents, brother and I, lived in an air two-bedroom apartment that must have been about 2,000 square feet. My brother and I went to expensive private summer camps each summer. We also went to out-of-town private colleges and my brother toan out-of-town law school without ever borrowing a nickel or getting a nickel of scholarship money.

When I graduated from college, entry-level jobs in advertising, even journalism – yes! journalism!- in New York were sufficient to rent a studio apartment on a high floor in a brand new building on Manhattan's Upper East Side, or in a charming Greenwich Village town house.

Try that today, dude.

We forget how poor we all become when a handful of guys at the top suck all the money out of the economy.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crannk

Buce said...

Sean--yes, I think chain migration is a possibility here. And as you suggest, they are not mutually exclusive.

Crank--ah, but you didn't have wifi.