Friday, August 19, 2011

Great Uncle Max

After my Bubbe died, we uncovered a treasure trove of photographs from both Bubbe and Zayda's past. Lots of old family pictures from both sides of the family.  One day, a few months later, Avi and Zayda are going through the pictures and writing down who is who when they come across this picture. 
This is my Bubbe's grandmother. It clearly was taken in the early 1900s and this little boy, clearly has Down's Syndrome.  Avi asks Zayda who it is and he goes, "Oh, that's the little retarded* boy." Avi and my mom gasp and ask him who it is.
*please note, that I NEVER use that word, but I wanted to quote my 85 year old grandfather and to show how times have changed in how we refer to those with different mental abilities.*

All he knew was that this is Max. Max was my Bubbe's grandmother's son. Bubbe's great-uncle. My mom's great-great-uncle. And my great-great-great-uncle. My Zayda didn't know his birth year or when he died, or much more about his life, but he knew he had down's syndrome.  

Avi, being the genealogy buff, pulled up the 1920 census records. There on the records are my great-grandparents and 6 children. We always thought they had only 5 children. This 6th child is much younger than the others, listed as 8 and it says he can't read or write.  Now we understood.  On the 1930 census he isn't listed.
Did he die between 1920 and 1930? Was he sent to the "Colony," the NJ State Developmental Home for boys, which was located in the small town where they lived? We had nothing to go on, except that he was Max, a late in life child, with Down's Syndrome.

Then we began to wonder, where is he buried? Was he buried by the family? What did they think of having a child with Down's Syndrome? Was he shunned or sent away? Was he loved?

When we buried my grandfather a few months later, we searched the cemetery, where Max's parents are also buried for his grave. Nothing.
Then this past week my mom and I went back to South Jersey and Woodbine, hoping we could find out more about Max. We visited the museum in Woodbine's only synagogue and were talking with the director (who we know and knows our family's past).  All of a sudden, as we explained a small family/community rift, it hit us. He was buried in the other cemetery in the town. And we were off.

There were very few family plots in this cemetery. And people were buried in order of when they passed away.  We started walking the rows looking for Max Stein. I was in one section when my mom called me over to where she was to look at another relative. As I quickly headed in her direction I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye I realized I found it.
I immediately got goosebumps. I had found great-uncle Max. We had a birth year and death year. We had a birth date and death date. No longer was he just a face in a picture, a name on the census, we had a book end of sorts.
We suddenly have some more answers. He was 13 when he died, old for a child with Down's Syndrome in the early 1900s. His plot is clearly the size of a child's. He was clearly still part of the family, he has a lovely headstone, and had a burial in the synagogues cemetery.

We still don't know all the answers, but we have some more information. Every family has a secret, and we're beginning to unravel ours.

7 thoughts on the matter:

tinajo said... {Reply}

This is a fantastic post in every way. Moving and interesting - how the time has changed...

The photo is beautiful and I guess that they maybe wouldn´t have taken it in case they had been truly ashamed of him, so I think there was love. Of course it was harder to have a child with Down´s in those days, with prejudices and all - it still is no picnic according to a friend of mine who has a son with Downs. Luckily, we all learn generation by generation to be more accepting of different.

Please let us know if you learn something more! :-)

Sian said... {Reply}

wow how interesting! I would also love to hear what more you uncover x

deb duty said... {Reply}

This reminds me of a book I read in jr. high about Dale Evans and Roy Roger's baby girl with down's syndrome. Everyone thought they should send her away, but they didn't. I think she died when she was only about two years old. The book was called Angel Unaware.

Rachel said... {Reply}

Oh good gracious... I had goosebumps too.

Amazing to think of the history that transpired before us. And how far we have come. What a beauiful thing to "discover" Max and give him his rightful place in your family.

Mommy to those Special Ks said... {Reply}

WOW!!! This is SO interesting!! I LOVE the picture. I hope you can find out more about Max... about his life and how he died. Thanks for blogging about your journey!

Kathy said... {Reply}

Visiting from "Scavenger Hunt" and your old family photo caught my eye. That is because I was recently given BOXES of archival family photos when my Granny passed. I am in the midst of doing what you are doing...TRYING to figure out who the heck all these people are and their relation. Your story about Max gripped me. And you are right, there are often secrets that come out generations later. For instance, I am not trying to find out WHY my grandmother used and alias name on her marriage certificate! It appears I had a rebel in the family...I'm very impressed! haha. Good luck with your search!


Anika said... {Reply}

Wow! What a special adventure...putting the pieces together must be so rewarding...and sounds fun too :) That photo is such a wonderful treasure...I love old family photos-they do add some images and faces to the stories before our time and that's just so cool. Enjoyed the post!