Sunday, April 29, 2012

Annie's Ghosts and some of the effects of WWII


I recently finished reading a book called "Annie's Ghosts" by Steve Luxenberg ( 2009, Hyperion Books). Steve Luxenberg is a journalist who discovers after his mother's death that she was not an only child but had a younger sister, Annie, who was physically and mentally handicapped. She had spent thirty some years in mental hospital before dieing there. He decides to search out this secret of the family and records his problems with the bureaucracy and legal issues surrounding health records and information of people who have been in institutions. Lucky for him he was a journalist and knew a number of people that could give him advise so eventually he was able to construct some facts on this unknown Aunt of his. In the process of writing about his investigation he gives a great amount of background information about various outlooks in the 1920's thru 1960's. It is an interesting book if you have tried to do any family tree research and attempted to get information from any institution regardless of how long the person you are investigating has been dead.

One item of interest, in his background information, concerned the number of marriages that occurred in the 1940 to 1942 period. We always hope love is the main reason for marriage but we know in truth there are other factors involved. In part it was an outcome of limited economy opportunities women had in that period and the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which initially had a provision exempting married men from military draft.

Altho he does not go into into it that much anyone who does family tree work can not help but be struck my the number of marriages in that time period (1940-1942). Also the number of divorces in 1945 hit an all time high after the war was over and the married man of 1942 returned home to someone he didn't really know. The usual age for women marrying in that time period was from age 16 to about age 25. Due to the lack of economic opportunities most women in that age group lived with their parents. We know at that age most were dieing to leave home and get out on their own, away from their parents, and one doorway for that was marriage.

For the men; the Army or Marines really had no appeal and one way out of the draft selection was to be married and even more insurance from being drafted was given if you had children. This would later change and men would drafted rather they were married or not.

So added to the two factors plus the sexual heat in that age group and once all your friends marry you feel you have to do likewise, a peak of wartime marriages was reached in 1942 when 1,772,000 marriages were reported compared say to 1938 with 1,331,000 marriages. Now in part, some marriages were put off until the war years due to the depression and lack of money to get married. Once the war started and the war industry was hiring everyone including women, money became available for marriage. So not only marriages but with the attraction of waiting jobs, the number of high school dropouts increased significantly, resulting in the teenage work force swelling from one million to three million youngsters.

Besides marriages and school dropouts, another event happened during the war years that when doing family tree work you will encounter and that in Delaware was called the Delayed Birth Certificate. In order to qualify for a job in a defense plant, and that was where the money was, you had to have proof of citizenship which meant you had to have a birth certificate. Most people, prior to 1930, were born at home and merely had their name and birth year recorded in a family bible, now they had to have a state document. Delaware has required a birth certificate since 1913 but since there was no reason to have one not all births were reported to the state. The state vital statistics offices were overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of requests for certified copies of birth certificates and with delayed registration of births. The delayed Birth Certificate called for submitting the family bible, maybe an insurance policy showing your age when you took the insurance policy out, marriage records showing your age, draft cards with age etc. These had to be submitted with sworn statements by your parents or family members or even a family friend. It would take awhile before the delayed birth certificate was issued.

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