The People of Pancho

At Play In The Archive

Decades of Clues

Margaret Madness continues!

The Spielmann family arrived in the United States in 1897 on the SS Trave out of Bremen, Germany. Most of what I know about the family prior to Margaret’s marriage to my great-grandfather Leo Lessiack, I learned from the US census data available on Here’s a decade-by-decade run down of the comings and goings of the Spielmann family after they arrived in New York.

The 1900 census has the family living in Manhattan. Dwellers on “Avenue B” (no number provided) include parents Herman and Fanny, along with Margaret, Ernst, Hilda, and US-born children Walter and Lillian. There is also a sister-in-law, Jennie, living with the family. The census lists Jennie as “Jennie Spielmann” which suggests one of two mistakes: either Jennie is not actually Herman’s sister-in-law but rather his sister (hence the same last name), or else the census taker didn’t record her last name correctly. That would be a pity because it means that a precious clue to Fanny’s maiden name was lost. In this census, Herman’s occupation is listed as “Collector.”

By the time of the 1910 census, the family has moved to New Jersey (Jersey City Ward 11, Hudson) and changed their surname to “Spellmann”.  Jennie has moved out, and two new US-born children, Gilbert (age 8) and Erwin (age 4) have joined the family. Erwin is listed as “Irving” on this census, which I think is a mistake on the part of the census worker. I came across no other mentions of an “Irving”, plus there is this adorable picture (labeled, thank goodness!) to go by. Erwin is the cutie-pie in the middle.

Photographer unknown, date assumed to be 1910-ish. The back of photo says, "Walter, Erwin, and Gilbert."

The back of this photo says, “Walter, Erwin, and Gilbert.” On the 1910 census, Walter is 12, Erwin is 4, and Gilbert is 8, which fits the look of these kids, so I’m assuming this image is from 1910-ish. Photographer unknown.

Herman’s occupation is now listed as a steward in the steamship industry (more on this in future posts–my whole family was ship-crazy). Ernst (16) has a job as an errand boy in the stationery industry, and my great-grandmother Margaret (18) is now a bookkeeper either at or through an employment agency. In answer to the question, “Attended school any time since September 1, 1909?” both Margaret and Ernst answered “no.” This means that Ernst left high school before graduating. I’m not sure what the case was for Margaret, but I intend to find out.

At the time of the 1920 census, the family surname was listed as Spellman — perhaps that double ‘n’ still struck them as too old-world — the family had moved to “West Hoboken, Ward 2, Hudson, New Jersey” and only seven kids were still at home: Ernst, Hilda, Walter, Lillian, Gilbert, Erwin, and Leonor. Hilda’s husband, Harry Morgan, also lived with the family at this time.

Herman’s occupation is “Bookkeeper, Importing Co.”, and poor Fanny is still listed with an occupation of “none” — never was a woman’s work so undervalued. Mother of eight. None?!? Puleeeze… — and all the kids (except Leonor, who is only 9) have jobs now too:

  • Ernst (26)  – “Stock Clerk, Automobile Co.”
  • Hilda (24)  – “Saleswoman, Department Store”
  • Walter (21) – “Bookkeeper, Wholesale Groceries”
  • Lillian (19) – “Cashier, Wholesale Hardware”
  • Gilbert (18)  – “Stock Clerk, Automobile Co. (the same one as Ernst, I wonder?)”
  • Erwin (14)  – “Office Boy, Telephone Company”

Hilda’s husband, Harry Morgan, is listed with an occupation of “Laundryman, Laundromat”

Do you see who is missing? Great-grandmother Margaret, that’s who. Here she is in 1917 with my great-grandfather, Leo Lessiack, presumably on the front porch of the family home.

Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack, New Jersey, 1917. Photographer unknown.

Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack and Margaret Spielmann Lessiack, New Jersey, 1917. Photographer unknown.

I also came across this treasure of a letter:

“September 6, 1919

My dear Miss Spielman,

I shall be glad to perform your marriage ceremony Wednesday, September 24 at 237 Palisade Ave., West Hoboken, NJ. I shall return to Hoboken September 10th.

Sincerely Yours,

(A scrawled name. When I dig out their marriage certificate, I will attempt to figure out exactly what that name is.)

"Maaaaawidge." Fans of The Princess Bride will understand.

“Maaaaawidge.” Fans of The Princess Bride will understand.

So, now we know why Margaret was no longer living at home at the time of the 1920 census. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

The back of the photo says July 1922, Harz Mts, Germany. Postcard to Mrs. F. Bielitz (no address). The baby is my grandfather, Robert Lessiack.

The back of the photo says July 1922, Harz Mts, Germany. Postcard to Mrs. F. Bielitz (no address). The baby is my grandfather, Robert Lessiack. He looks a great deal like my mother in this picture.

One comment on “Decades of Clues

  1. Pingback: What Happened to Hilda? | The People of Pancho

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