Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: A Surprising Discovery

It’s a quiet Labor Day weekend for the Stufflebeans, but, better than a holiday weekend (Hey, we’re retired so every day is a holiday) is Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with Randy Seaver.

This week’s topic is:

1) What genealogical discovery surprised you?

I’ve had many genealogy surprises during the 43 years I’ve been researching, and I’ve already blogged about most of them.

However, I do have a new discovery of sorts that has been sitting right under my nose for years.

I think I’ve known since I was a child that my father was born in the same house in which I grew up at 49 Summer Street, Passaic, New Jersey.

I was also aware that Nana had a tough delivery since my dad was a big 10 lb. baby and Nana was a slim and petite 5’1″.

Nana and my grandfather, George, who died before I was born, were quite well-to-do given that they were children of Rusyn immigrants, although both were born in America.

Not only were they able to buy the Summer Street house in 1922, they owned the Central Market Company, which was a butcher shop on Main Avenue in downtown Passaic.

I also learned at Nana’s funeral that they were economically comfortable during the Depression, so much so that they hired the daughter of some friends – Anna Stanchak – to be their maid. Anna was then able to contribute to her family’s support during the tough 1930s.

Nana was always frugal and very careful with her money. However, she and my grandfather spoiled their only child, George, my dad and I would have expected that Nana was cared for by a doctor during her pregnancy and that she would have given birth in a hospital.

After all, it was the 1920s and they lived a stone’s throw (15 miles) across the water from New York City. Passaic was a thriving city with a population over 50,000. It not only had three hospitals – Passaic General, St. Mary’s and Beth Israel, all established in the 1890s, but Passaic General Hospital even had a maternity wing, Ackerson Maternity House, where I was born.

However, there was no hospital birth for my dad, so I figured the doctor came to the house when Nana went into labor. Nope!!

That is my most recent surprising discovery. I’ve had this birth certificate since Nana died in 1985:

This certificate, issued by the Passaic City Clerk, confirms that Dad was born at home. However, look at the “Name of attendant at time of Birth” – Mary Berberich!

No M.D. for Nana – Mary was a midwife, but even more surprising was that Mary was not Rusyn – she was German!

Although Nana was born in Passaic herself, her family moved back to Ujak, Slovakia when she was about five years old. Therefore, she grew up with Rusyn customs and, believe me, there was no doctor in the village who delivered babies. Babies were women’s jobs and the village midwife would have been summoned when labor began.

Therefore, it isn’t all that surprising to me that a midwife delivered my father. However, it still surprises me that someone from Ujak didn’t deliver him in Passaic because at least half the residents of Ujak lived in Passaic at one time or another.

Perhaps there was a midwife from Ujak living in Passaic in the 1920s, but, if so, for whatever reason, my grandparents would have asked the very best midwife to deliver their child, even if she wasn’t Rusyn.

That tells me a lot about Marie (aka Mary) Berberich and it sent me down a small rabbit hole to learn more about her.

Marie Rodat was born c1878 in Germany. She married Emil Berberich in Passaic on 12 September 1896 and returned to Europe at least once after marriage, arriving in New York with Emil on the Friedrich Der Grosse on 5 September 1899, with Passaic listed as their destination.

The 1910 and 1920 census indicate that Emil and Marie were the parents of one son, Gustav Adolf, and one daughter, Kathryn A., in addition to Emil, born 17 October 1897, but who died young. They arrived in America in 1894 and 1895, respectively, and were naturalized in 1900.

Mary’s census records indicate she had no occupation in 1910, 1920 or 1930.

However, Emil died in 1931 and, in the 1940 census, Marie was still living at 280 Hope Avenue, Passaic, where the family had lived for years, with son Gustave, who apparently never married.

Marie’s occupation was listed as “midwife” and she had been employed 50 of the previous 52 weeks! She was a busy lady!

Further digging in the city directories shows that Marie Berberich had her own listing in the 1918 Passaic City Directory and, by 1919, midwives had their own category in the directory:

A quick scan of the list shows many Slavic names, which means Nana had a choice of the midwife she preferred – that was Marie Berberich.

There is no way to find out how many babies Marie Berberich delivered in her lifetime, but the fact that she is listed in the 1918 city directory with that occupation and that she was employed 50/52 weeks at the time of the 1940 census indicates that she brought hundreds of babies into the world.

Marie Berberich died in March 1951 and is buried at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson with husband Emil and their son, Gustave, who died in 1978.

Daughter Kathryn married James O’Keeffe on 16 June 1926. James unfortunately died in May 1928 and Kathryn never remarried. They did have one daughter, Dorothy.

So, that is my latest surprising discovery – learning all about midwife Marie Berberich, who delivered my father!



2 thoughts on “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: A Surprising Discovery”

  1. What an interesting story and the reason to carefully transcribe all the parts of a document. Who knows how those other people listed will help solve mysteries.

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