Each document I uncover is an opportunity to pretend to be a time traveller. Sometimes a single document can paint a vivid picture of the past and bring you a little closer to understanding what life might have been like. Today I time travelled and spent a number of hours visiting with the family of Constantine “Costan” Cojocari in 1940 Detroit, Michigan. Travel back with me thanks to the United States Census which took place in April of that year.
On April 6, 1940 Pearl A Janes made her way through a Detroit neighbourhood called North End as a Census Enumerator for the US Government. The government called this area Michigan, Wayne County, Detroit City, Sub-district 13, Enumeration District 84-141. As she worked her way door to door Pearl found that the streets she was tasked with interviewing were lined with mostly two-story houses and duplexes built in the early 1900’s all of which were rented to a colourful variety of people.
More than half of the people she encountered were people born across the USA but the other half were from many places around the world including Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Germany, Canada and even some Romanians. Though everyone in the neighbourhood was renting, Pearl found that almost all had been living there for five years or more. This was a stable area where people had made homes.
And why not? It was right next to vast automotive factories and industrial parks as well as being only 7km (4mi) from Downtown Detroit and the bridge to Windsor, Ontario. With World War II driving economies around the world up and down, Detroit’s industry was humming and there was no difficulty in people finding employment.
Pearl found that most of the people she interviewed were working for the auto industry in various capacities but there were also accountants, salesmen, photographers, shopkeepers and truck drivers to name but a few. A diverse selection of workers but most of them worked performing manual labour in the nearby factories.
As she made her way up Westminster Street the census enumerator knocked on the door of #580 the house rented by Costan Cojocari and his family. Pearl was greeted at the door by Cleofira, Costan’s wife, who then answered all of the questions for the census.
Cleofira told the enumerator that there were ten people living in their house which they were renting for $35 per month for the last five years: Her husband, seven of her ten children, one son-in-law and herself.
Cleofira gave the enumerator everyone’s names but I’m not sure if Pearl double-checked everything with Cleofira or just wrote what she thought she heard but she listed the Cojocari inhabitants as Gustave and Claofira, their children Irene, Veronzia, John, George, Mary, Joan, Helen and their son-in-law Vincent Salinas. We may never know if some of these spellings were correct or incorrect at the time. When I see these sort of errors I try to imagine a native english speaker listening to someone speaking with a thick Romanian accent - it starts to make sense. In my research I have documented eight men named Constantine out of about fifty who also went by "Gus". It must have been a common thing to do. Did Cleofira just say "Gus" and it was written as "Gustave"? Certainly the government thought that Constantine was named Gustave so that year.
Costan Cojocari was said to be the head of the house and a married (to Cleofira) 49 year old male, born in Romania of a white race with a grade 6 education. He had lived at 580 Westminster Street for five years or more. He had applied for US citizenship and had “first papers” but was not yet Naturalized. He was employed and in the previous week he had worked 48 hours as a Conveyor Operator for an auto body manufacturer. Last year (1939) he worked 38 weeks. Over the whole of 1939 he earned $900.
Cleofira Cojocari was listed as Costan’s wife. She told the enumerator that she was female, married, 47 years old, born in Romania of a white race and had a Grade 6 education. She had been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more. Cleofira had not applied for US citizenship yet and was still classed an Alien. She worked in the home.
Irene Cojocari was a daughter of Costan and Cleofira. She was female, single, 25 years old, born in an english-speaking part of Canada and had a Grade 7 education. She had been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more. Irene had not applied for US citizenship yet and was still classed an Alien. Irene was employed and had worked 44 hours the previous week as a Gasket Maker for an auto parts manufacturer. In the previous year (1939) she had worked 26 weeks and earned $520 over that whole year.
Veronsa was also a daughter of Costan and Cleofira. The enumerator was told that Veronsa was a 21 year old female with a first-year High School education who was born in an english-speaking part of Canada to a white race. She had been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more. She had applied for US citizenship and had “first papers” but was not yet Naturalized. Veronsa was employed as a Bottle Filler at a drug manufacturing company where she had worked 44 hours in the previous week. In the previous year (1939) Veronsa worked 50 weeks and earned $1000 over that whole year.
Next, was Costan and Cleofira’s son John who was male, 19 years old, single, with a Grade 7 education and born in an english-speaking part of Canada to a white race. John had also been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more. He had not applied for US citizenship yet and was still classed an Alien. He had been unemployed for the last 90 weeks but was looking for work. He had some previous work experience as a Waiter in restaurants. In the previous year (1939) he had worked 4 weeks and had earned $24 over that entire year.
George Cojacari, son of Costan and Cleofira was listed next. George was a 15 year old, single white male with a Grade 8 education and the first in the family to be born in Michigan, USA and so was a US citizen. He had also been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more. Pearl the enumerator was told that he wasn’t working in the house or at a job but that he was engaged in “Other Work”. As George’s entry on the census was captured on line 55 of the sheet he had extra information captured for him. The extra information was that both his father and mother were born in Romania and that Romanian was the language spoken in their house when he was born. He did not have a social security number at the time of the census. The other extra questions did not apply to him.
The census enumerator was told that daughter Mary was a 14 year old female who was still in school having completed Grade 7. She was the second in the family to be born in Michigan and a US citizen as a result. She had been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more.
Joan was Costan and Cleofira’s youngest daughter. Joan was 7 years old, in grade 2 and was still in school. She was the third of Costan’s children to be born in Michigan, USA and so was a US citizen. Joan had been living at 580 Westminster Street for the last five years or more.
Helen Salinis nee Cojocari the daughter of Costan and Cleofira was married to Vincent Salinis and together they had been living at 580 Westminster Street too for the last five years or more. Helen was an 18 year old, white race, female with a first year High School education who was born in an english-speaking area of Canada. She had not applied for US citizenship yet and was still classed an Alien. She did not work outside the home. Vincent Salinis was a 26 year old, born in Pennsylvania USA, male, white with a Grade 7 education. Vincent was employed as a Welder for an auto manufacturer and worked 33 hours the previous week. In the prior year (1939) he worked 33 weeks and earned $800 for that whole year.
Both Cleofira and her daughter Helen say they worked in the home. That was probably needed given that they were running a home with ten people in it. I can imagine that laundry alone took a great deal of their time even if they had a washing machine it was still a very manual process.
Remember that people in 1940 probably shovelled coal out of their basements into their stoves and furnaces to make heat. They might have sewn some of their clothes rather than buying them and they certainly mended their clothes. Life was a lot more convenient for them than living on a farm but life in a bustling American city in 1940 had less conveniences than we have today.
With rent for the house costing $35 per month that is $420 per year which is almost half of Costan's income declared for the previous year. If he was going to make the same money the next year that would be difficult to sustain so I suspect that all of the income earners in the home were contributing to the rent and other expenses.
I found the border crossing for Cleofira and the children moving from Canada to the United States. Costan wasn't with them so I imagine he got there first and they joined him Feb 4, 1924. This means that Costan and Cleofira lived 16 years in Detroit before giving us a peek into their lives in 1940.
Three of Costan's children were not at home on census day I presume it is because they had homes of their own. Valaria "Lena" was already married. So was Eli. I don't have a marriage date for Anna "Ann" but she would have been old enough to get married by 1940 so we can assume that is what happened. I don't know the marriage date for Helen and Vincent Salinis but I assume it was very close to 1940 and that they were living with her parents because they were trying to save money to move out on their own.
In my early days of hunting for family history I came across this census entry but was confused by the name Gustave. At the time I didn't have a complete list of the children and I didn't have lots of dates so I was unable to ignore the name. How many people with the last name "Cojocari" could have a wife named "Cleofira" could there possibly be? But because I was dedicated to getting things right I ignored the entries for years until I had more evidence.