It is a census year. And the year my family added a new generation. So I ventured back 100 years to the 1920 Census, to find the genealogical “round of sixteen” grandparents for my three children.

Who were we? Where had we come from? Where will we be when I am a great-grandparent years hence?

Thanks to the census and Google maps, I can “visit” all our 1920 dwellings. They still exist, even back in “the old country.” Our families were larger then, especially the farming branches. Many of us were recent Americans; some had been here for centuries. Some were considered well-to-do; some eked out a living. Some farmed; some held “our” first non-farm jobs.

Carl Behrhorst and Caroline Cross married in Lima, Ohio and settled in Pittsburgh. By 1920, they had three children, and lived in the Avalon neighborhood. They had a servant, a Hungarian woman named Mary Kleti. Carl’s widowed mother, Amelia Gerwig Behrhorst, lived with them. Their house on Orchard street still exists in family photos as well as Google maps street view. Carl managed the family canned goods business founded by his grandfather, born in northern Germany. Caroline’s ancestors had been here for well over a hundred years, settling Lima, Ohio, part of the northwest territory. Their daughter, Amelia Behrhorst Stone – gramma – liked to tell me she was born the same year the Wright Brothers flew their airplane: 1903.

Jason E. Stone and Anna Rutherford were living in Olean, New York in 1920. He was a bookkeeper; Anna came from Pennsylvania. Their son, Jason E. Stone, Jr. was 17, his younger brother, Rutherford, would have been 15; and his younger sister, Marion, was 10. Anna’s widowed mother lived with them, Anna Kraus Rutherford. Jason Jr. was two-months younger than Amelia Behrhorst, his future spouse. They both went to college. Their daughter Nancy, my mother, would be born just after the 1930 Census.

In 1920, my father’s grandparents, Walter and Minnie Cudney Colby, lived in Marquette, Nebraska, with their eleven-year old daughter June Marie, and her nine year-old sister Josephine, the youngest of seven children. They too had lost a child in infancy. Walter had been one of 14 children; his father one of 8. Walter was a laborer; Minnie, a nurse. Their house in Marquette endures. I can “see” it thanks to the census record which matches a family photo. Theirs was another American arc, from Moose River Maine where Walter was born, to Michigan and then Nebraska, by covered wagon. Walter’s father, Spencer, farmer and blacksmith, was a Civil War veteran in the 14th Maine regiment. And all us American Colbys descend from Anthony and Susannah of Lincolnshire, England who arrived on the Winthrop fleet in 1630.


Alexander and Jeannie Callum Nelson departed Glasgow in 1867. Alexander did not live to be in the 1920 Census; Jeannie did. And the 1930 Census too. The matriarch, her thick Glasgow accent was living vestige of the old country. In a 1932 photo, she holds my father, age two—four generations—in Tonawanda, New York. The stone cottage of Alexander’s youth, adjacent to the fields his father plowed, persists in the village of Spott, near Dunbar. Thanks, Google. Alexander was a train conductor; his son a tool and die maker; his grandson an accountant; his great-grandson a journalist.

My wife’s great grandparents, David (a glasses salesman) and Anna Brody came from Russia in 1892. In 1920, they lived in Brooklyn down the block from Israel (a tailor) and Elizabeth Mendelson Cohen, also from Russia. Their children, Joe and Evelyn, respectively, married. Their son Lowell, future architect, married Shirley VanValkenburgh, English teacher. The granddaughter of Gurdeon VanValkenburgh, she came from a line of Dutch settlers in the Hudson River valley, traceable to the 1600s. In the 1920 Census, Gurdeon’s son Raymond was a house painter and carpenter. He married Louise Elgie, whose father Augustus had emigrated from Devon, England, born 1859.  Lowell and Shirley begat Lesley Brody Nelson. I married her wearing a kilt.

Our newcomer, Freya June Gutierrez Nelson, will appear in the 2020 Census. Her Costa Rican father, Gerardo, adds a fresh branch. Spain is his family’s “old country.” And when Freya’s children read this, sometime in our family’s next century, when I join their “round of sixteen,” they will have a thumbnail sketch of where “we” came from.  They’ll also learn that great-grandfather Todd was born in Tokyo; great grandmother Lesley in London. Grandma Hilary was born outside Boston; mother Freya in San Francisco. She came to Maine on an airplane, at two weeks old, thanks, in part, to those Wright brothers, I suppose.

— Special to the Telegram

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