Monday, August 11, 2014

First patient to get a penicillin shot , Harlem's Aaron Leroy Alston , possibly not a widower.

Census information on individuals is always useful but bring along a couple grains of salt.

 A possible case in point is whether or not history's first antibiotics patient, Harlem's Aaron Leroy Alston, was or was not a widower - as reported by his mother on his January 1941 death certificate.

 After all there was no indication he had ever been married let alone widowed on the April 1940 census - where he was simply known as Leroy Alston - the name family and friends called him.

His nephew Claude Jay told me he does not recall any in the extended Glaze family mentioning that Leroy was ever married widowed or separated.

 But the 1930 census tells a different story.

 Born in Rockhill South Carolina in 1910 , Leroy had arrived in Harlem in 1923, an only child, with his mother mother Louise (Glaze) Alston and his father William "Stock" Alston and his cousin Reginald Daniels, about his same age.

They then opened a restaurant at the corner of 8th Avenue and 148th Street.

 By 1930, Aaron and his mother are living in different apartments in Harlem.

 Louise is reported as a widow - and a check of the indexed NYC death certificates does show a death of a William Alston on March 12 1924 , at the very young age of age 36.

 She is described as a waitress working in a tea shop and earning an appallingly low annual income.

 A. Leroy Alston, which was the preferred way that Leroy liked to call himself in print, in 1930 is shown as married to a Charlotte L Alston.

 It indicated both married two years earlier at 18 , on completing High School.

 She is a homemaker and Leroy has a good job - a clerk in a NY Underwriters office ( fire insurance) .

 A check of the indexed death certificates finds no dead Charlotte Alston in all NYC up to the end of 1948 - period.

 Instead in 1940 , the census shows a Charlotte L (L for maiden name Lee ?) Alston, living in Harlem as a daughter to Julia Lee and her age and birth state is the same as indicated in 1930.

 Now it is true that census returns , until recently, almost never used the words separated, deserted , divorced or common law.

 My partner's own father's parents both remarried without getting an (expensive / public) divorce first and continued to live very close to each other in rural Nova Scotia!

 Older family adults probably knew and small children - and the authorites - were never set wise.

 If the couple separated and both returned home to live with mother , it wasn't for lack of jobs during the terrible Great Depression which destroyed so many families in Harlem.

 Leroy kept his good job and worked it a full 52 weeks in 1939.

Many breadwinners then , white and black , had only intermittent work even when employed.

 It is mystery , either way this widowed/married or not issue is finally resolved ....

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