Jeanette's Grandma Waterman was born Katharina Wachtel 20 Oct 1865 in the town of Wihoĝau, in what is now the Czech Republic.1 Her parents were Abraham Wachtel and Barbara Laschansky. As a girl, or young woman, Katherine, or Kate, or Katie, immigrated to the United States.2 About 1892, perhaps in Dallas, Texas, she married Henry Wasserman, an immigrant from the Russian Empire. She and Henry settled in Kansas City, Missouri, where six of their seven children were born. The late 19th and early 20th century were a time when many Eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States.
Henry Wasserman enlisted in the 3rd Missouri volunteer infantry during the Spanish-American war but didn't leave the United States. The war was over too soon for his unit to be sent overseas, and he was discharged in November 1898. This information is noted on his discharge certificate, and on a United Spanish War Veterans certificate.
The Wasserman family moved frequently from one place to another, even within cities. In the 1900 U. S. census, the Wassermans were enumerated at 2126 Broadway, in Kansas City, MO. At the time of their daughter Bertha's birth in 1904, they were living at 925 E. 19th Street.
In about 1906, the Wassermans moved to Los Angeles. Jeanette's mother, Bertha, always told people she had come to California "when I was two years old". Their daughter Elsie's 1907 birth certificate gives their address at that time as 1497 E. 4th Street. That's a few blocks east of the Los Angeles River, between the river and the present Santa Ana (101) freeway in what was then the mostly Jewish Boyle Heights neighborhood. In the 1910 census, their address appears, not very legibly, to be 2205 South State Street. There is a State Street in Boyle Heights, but this address doesn't exist and may have been covered up by the San Bernardino (I-10) freeway. Henry's 1911 petition for naturalization gives his address as 1419 Santa Fe Avenue, near E. Olympic Blvd., a block west of the L. A. River. By 1920, they were living at 2529 E. 1st Street, near the corner of North Soto Street and Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights.
The Wassermans' 1910 census record provides a clue as to just where in Russia Henry might have come from. Below are three lines, which appear to be for Harry and Kattie and son Max. While the information isn't especially legible, I believe I can make out Pinsk, written very faintly in the same space where we see Russia for Henry's birthplace. Something is written along with Bohemia on Katharina's line, but I'm not sure what. In the space for her mother's birthplace, I think I can make out Czech, in addition to Bohemia. There wasn't any Czechoslovakia, or Czech Republic, though, in 1910, so this notation must have been added at least eight years later. And of course, there is no Bohemian language, as she and Max are both credited with speaking...
Pinsk obviously refers to the town which was in the Russian Empire at the time of that census, but which was later a part of Poland, the Soviet Union, and finally, Belarus. In 1939, about 90 per cent of the population of Pinsk was Jewish. The town was nearly depopulated as a result of the Nazis' transporting its inhabitants to extermination camps during World War II. Jokes about the Belarus towns of Minsk and Pinsk were popular among the Jewish vaudevillians of a century ago.
Quite a few Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their children became involved in business and the professions in the United States. In California, the probably unrelated Lew Wasserman and other Jews rose to positions of great influence in the rapidly developing Hollywood movie industry, but grandpa Henry Wasserman had no such success. In the censuses, Henry's occupation was listed as:
Kate and Henry were both naturalized U. S. citizens. The family's surname was still listed as Wasserman in the 1920 census, but Kate and all the children except Max became Christians and adopted the Waterman surname. Kate and Henry had the following children:
According to the censuses, Kate had an additional child before 1900 who died in infancy.
Some time between 1920 and 1930, Kate and Henry were divorced. The 1930 census finds Kate living with her son Max and his family in the Lincoln Heights district, while Henry had married a woman named Dina and was living about two miles away in Boyle Heights. In 1940, Henry's wife is listed as Minnie, and they were living at the same Boyle Heights address. "Dina" and "Minnie" were probably the same person. Each is listed as having been born in Russia. They would have been six or seven years apart in age, but that's not a big discrepancy in the world of census taking.
In the 1940 census, Henry and Kate's children were all living in the L. A. area with their own families, except for Virginia, who was living in Hawaii. She, as well as Max, Emily, Selma, Bertha and Elsie, were all easily located in the census records, but I couldn't find Kate or Betty anywhere.
These are Jeanette's memories of her grandmother:
I was around 8 years old when my grandma died. So my memories are those of a small child. She seemed very old, very small, and very wrinkled. She loved me. I did not question. She was a granny. I was her youngest grandchild.
She would come and spend a few days visiting at our house in Westchester. She would help my mother with housework; there was a lot of ironing in those days. She would play with me. I particularly remember playing paper dolls.
We would regularly travel to the other side of Los Angeles on Sunday afternoons to visit Grandma and my Aunt Emily, who lived across the street. Grandma's house was small. I remember it had lots of glass-door cabinets in the dining room or living room, and she had lots of trinkets - figurines, etc. This was during World War II. Some of my older cousins were in the war and they sent her mementos like silk pillows. Unless I'm mixing her up with Aunt Emily, she always had Koolade and cookies for us to eat.
When we asked another granddaughter, Bev Winans, for her own reminiscences, here's what she wrote:
Ma, as I called her, was very special to me as I grew up. My mom would drop me off at her home and I would spend the day. I loved to play dolls and paper dolls. We would sit on the front porch and I would dress my paper dolls and she would watch with interest as I would tell her all about their make-believe lives. She was very attentive.
Then, sometimes, in the afternoon we would go to the matinee and usually see a western or a love story. Always two movies with an intermission in between. They would have entertainment of some kind. Such as, giving away dishes or drinking glasses as a door prize. Or a free ticket. That was always fun and exciting.
I loved all Ma's nick-nacks. She probably had very valuable antiques but no one was interested at that time. Sometimes she would come to our house for the weekend. The first thing she did was to bake two apple pies. My mom never baked pies. Ma's were very tastey and dad and I loved them. Mom too.
Dad would constantly tease Ma by untying her apron and she would try and swat him. Or he would sit next to her and put his hand on her knee and slowly pull her skirt up. She would pretend to be angry, but she loved the attention. Dad was constantly teasing her about something. I loved having her around as she would spend a lot of time with me, sometimes just talking. I wish I had asked more questions about her life, but I didn't.
We all tried to talk her into a new stove and other kitchen appliances but she loved her old things. It was a sad time when she left us at about 84, I think. I'm not sure, but I think she had a bowel obstruction that caused her death. She was a delight to have around as she was a happy person and her funny ways made us laugh a lot.
I'm looking forward to seeing her again in heaven.
Kate's grandson, Leonard Marangi, added his own memories:
My recollections of Granny are very favorable. She lived In Lincoln Heights when I was in grammar school and high school. During the last years of her life she lived across the street from our home at 2914 Manitou Ave. where my mother could keep an eye on her and we were close by. She was always cheerful and interested in her grandchildren. I would stop by her apartment on Workman St., where she lived before moving to Manitou Ave., to visit with her after grammar schools, which went through the 8th grade. She always had home baked cookies waiting. Sometimes we would play card games she enjoyed, such as "Casino" or "Fishermen". She frequently won the games because of her great experience.
Granny never complained when she had health problems. She lived on a small pension or social security. She was always a neat housekeeper. She was relatively "tiny", no more than 5 feet tall but was a strong person, physically and mentally. She gave great love and affection to all of her children and grandchildren. I have a photo some place standing next to Granny in front of her duplex apartment on Manitou Ave. when I graduated from high school in 1946. Although I was only 6 feet tall, she appeared to be about half my height. I will forward the photo to you if I come across it.
Jeanette's sister, Roberta, wrote the following:
I was very fortunate when I was young that both of my grandmothers were still alive and lived near enough that we saw them fairly frequently. My mother's mother, Grandma Waterman (Wasserman, in German), was a small woman with a wonderful smile. Grandma never really lived with us. She always had an apartment of her own in the Lincoln Heights area near Aunt Emily. Her place was full of knick-knacks and old photographs that I had fun looking at. We would drive across town on Sundays to visit Mom's family, and sometimes we would bring grandma home with us for a week or two. She always thought Dad was special, because he would fix things for her when we took her home.
She and I had fun when she visited. We would play card games like "war" and "fish". I remember a few times when my cousin Beverly was with us, too, we would play "beauty parlor" and grandma would let us fix her hair. We also would play "school" and try to teach grandma how to read and write. She was a good sport and would try. She actually could read a few words in the newspaper, but writing was more of a challenge because she had arthritis in her hands. Grandma liked to cook and bake, so we had lots of good things to eat when she came to visit. I remember the baking most, especially the "cheese pie" she used to make, because I got to help with that. She never used a recipe or measuring cups and spoons for anything: a pinch, or a handful was what she would say, so we weren't able to make her recipes after she was gone.
One of my earliest memories of Grandma Waterman was when I was about three years old (around 1935). She would come to stay at our house on East 61st Street and take care of me while my mother went to work at May Company in downtown Los Angeles. She talked about her brother who lived in "Germany". She would get letters from him written in German, but since she didn't read or write in any language, we would walk down the street to visit Mrs. Helwig, who was from Germany. Mrs. Helwig would read the letter to Grandma, and then Grandma would dictate a letter back to her brother. After awhile, the letters stopped coming and I remember my mother and dad talking about what might have happened to Grandma's brother and his family. Although I didn't really understand at the time, this is when I first learned that Grandma was Jewish and that her brother's family had probably been taken by the Germans. I always thought that Grandma was German, but she gave me a little tin plate that said "Made in Czechoslavakia", and told me that was where she was from. Grandma's maiden name was "Wachtel" and when Don and I visited the Jewish cemetery in Prague, we found a number of Wachtels in the Holocaust memorial that would have been about the right age to be her nieces and nephews.
Other memories involved stories and questions about Grandpa and other members of the family. Grandma never wanted to talk about grandpa and would get very upset about "that woman" (Minnie, his second wife) he lived with. When Grandpa died, Grandma refused to ride to the funeral in the same car with Minnie. My Mom told a story about her sister Betty, who evidently got up one Christmas Eve and opened all the presents in her stocking. She was so upset in the morning when she had nothing to open, that Grandma went out on foot Christmas morning and found a store where she was able to buy something for Betty.
Grandma died in Los Angeles 8 April 1946 and is buried in Inglewood Park cemetery in Inglewood, CA. The following notice appeared on page 8 of the Los Angeles Times for Wednesday, 10 April 1946:
WATERMAN, Katherine Wasserman, beloved mother of Virginia Tibbetts, Emily Marangi, Selma Stockwell, Betty Hatton, Bertha Langton, Elsie Cox & Max Wasserman. Services Thurs., 2 p.m., at the chapel of Mater & Simone.
It's an interesting coincidence that three of Katherine Waterman's grandchildren who shared their recollections married descendants of 17th century Dutch settler John Winans:
According to the California Death Records index, Henry B. Wasserman died 23 Oct 1946, aged 68 years, in Los Angeles county. The death records list his mother's maiden name as Feldawon, which is possibly a misspelling of Feldman. Just where and when his life began, and when he came to America, are not as clear.
Where? In each census from 1900 to 1930, Henry's birthplace is given as Russia. In 1940, the census taker put down Lithuania, which was one of several states making up the Russian Empire which declared their independence at the end of World War I. Only a few days after the 1940 U. S. census, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, which didn't become a free country once again until the breakup of the USSR in 1990. But was Henry really born within the boundaries of modern-day Lithuania? As mentioned above, somebody scribbled what looks like Pinsk in the birthplace field of his 1910 census record. His naturalization petition gives Henry's birthplace as Friedrichstadt, Russia, which is now known as Jaunjelgava, Latvia, a little town very close to the Lithuanian border. By the way, Google Maps places Pinsk about 700 kilometers, or 450 miles, south of this village with the unpronounceable name.
When? There's a spread of only four years between all the possible birth dates offered by Henry's census data – from 1866 to 1870, although his death certificate gives his age at death as 68 years, implying an 1878 birth date. In his naturalization petition, he claimed to have been born 15 May 1866. Henry's date of entry into the United States was reported as 1882, 1881, 1879 and 1885 in the 1900-1930 censuses, respectively, and as 15 May 1884 (his 18th birthday!?), in New York, aboard the Salle from Hamburg, in his petition.