Did Gussie get to dance at her granddaughter’s wedding?
Gussie Abramowitz (1884 – Feb. 22, 1967) and Harvey Blieden (Oct. 15, 1879 – Nov. 20, 1934) are our paternal grandparents.
Gussie (Augusta) Abramowitz told us she was from Courland on the outskirts of Riga, Latvia. Her father was Hirsch (Harry) Abramowitz and her mother was Etel(Yetta) Schmarkovitz. Her father was a butcher and provided meat for the Tzar’s army. Gussie had 9 siblings. The oldest that we know of was Max. Gussie was apprenticed to a seamstress, but she also graduated from the gymnasium (high school) in Riga which was most unusual for a girl at this time.
Rather than be conscripted into the Russian Army, Gussie’s oldest brother, Max, left for the United States. He peddled ice and coal door to door, carrying the ice on his back and was eventually able to send for four brothers and sisters to join him. Thus, our Grandmother Gussie, at age 16, left Riga. This was the story she told us. Getting to the United States was not as easy as it sounds. Gussie, not only left her family behind knowing she would probably never see them again, but she had to travel by train, steamships, ferries and barges, and walk for long distances.
To read the details of her journey, see my blog “From Mitau to Manhattan: Grandma Gussie’s Journey to the United States in 1904“.
According to her ship manifest, Gussie (Gutte) came to the US with her sister, Sarah (Sora), sailing from Copenhagen on the steamship Island. She listed herself as a tailor and 22 years old. She always told me she was 16 when she came but the records say otherwise. It is possible she lied about being older. Her brother, Max, was listed as her contact.
Gussie, and her sister, Sarah, were actually detained at Ellis Island until Max could pick them up.
The other siblings who came to the US besides Gussie and Sarah were Samuel, and Abe. To learn what happened to the other Abramowitz siblings, their pages are listed on the Abramowitz menu under Gussie’s Siblings.
When she first arrived, her brother Max was living on the Lower East Side in a tenement at 34 Chrystie Street. When Gussie and Sarah arrived, their brother, Sam, was also living there.
Soon after she arrived, she had her picture taken. She probably sent a copy back to her family in Latvia to show how well she was doing.
In the 1905 New York State Census, Gussie is working in millinery probably sewing hats. (1)
By 1908, they moved further uptown to a nicer neighborhood and were living at 48 E. 107th Street. (2)
Max appears to have moved his family out of the tenements to the Upper East side to an area known as East Harlem. This area was considered prime real estate and became very popular because of the elevated railroads on second and third avenue. (3)
Once she was settled, Gussie attended Landsmanshaften Society meetings. Landmanshaftens were clubs formed by immigrants originating from the same area and they were springing up all over New York and Brooklyn.
Harvey Bliden, also known as Harry, was at one of the same meetings that Gussie attended. They started seeing each other and were married on March 5, 1909, in Manhattan. On their marriage certificate, Harry said he was 30 years old living at 38 Summer Ave., while Gussie listed herself as 23 years old, living at 48 E. 107th St.
To the right is the Engagement Ketuba of Gussie and Harvey.
It says that the goom is Yechezkel, son of Mr. Aron Yitzchak Blieden. The bride is the daughter of Mr. Tzvi Hirsch.
It also says that her brother, Mordechai (Max) will stand in for her father.
The engagement was signed on Sunday, the 5th day of Kislev 5669.
The wedding was set to Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Adar (30 Shvat), 5669 (3 months ahead). (4)
Gussie worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop, while Harvey went to work for his new brother-in-law, Max, in his Custom Peddler’s Business.
According to the 1910 United States Census record, they were living at 201 Stockton Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Harvey worked as a clothing peddler and Gussie was a housewife.
Harvey and Gussie had 5 children with 3 surviving past infancy: Arthur, Bernard, and Mildred. In the 1915 Census, they were still all living at 201 Stockton Street.
You can read about Arthur, Bernard and MIldred under the Abramowitz menu under Harvey’s and Gussie’s children. Her second child, Joseph, died from congential heard disease at only 3 days old.
When the children were small, they lived in a three bedroom tenement costing $20 a month rent. In the apartment, they had the modern conveniences of the day, such as, a coal stove, an ice box, and indoor plumbing. Their building had the usual fire escape. They could not afford a car (that new-fangled invention) so they got around by foot, bus, trolley car, or subway which cost a nickel.
Gussie could now speak six languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German, Latvian, and English. However, she never did learn to read English. Also, Gussie could sing in any language and in the evenings she often sang the hours away while sitting near an open window with Mildred in her lap. She had a beautiful voice and all the neighbors would listen.
According to the 1920 Census, they were now living at 150 Tompkins Avenue. Harvey was now an insurance agent and Gussie was home with the 3 children.
During the summers, the family often went out to the country and vacationed in the Catskills. They stayed in a Kochalein, a building where each family lived in one room and everyone shared a community stove for cooking. The children would laugh when their father, Harvey, would call corn animal food, which it had been in Latvia. He had never seen people eat it before!
The Great Depression was hard on Harvey Blieden’s family. They had little money before and now things were ever harder. The children were dressed in hand-me-down clothes. Bernie worked many odd jobs to contribute to the family income. Gussie was a good cook and saw to it that there was always food on the table. The children were often sent to the butcher to wait for scraps like Skirt Steak, which was just thrown away in those days. Also, they were able to get extra milk. Miraculously, their four quart milk can actually held five quarts, so when it was filled up at the milk line they got extra!
According to the 1924 New York Voter List, Harvey and Gussie were living at 150 Tompkins Avenue which was in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.
It is nice to see that Gussie felt voting was important.
According to the 1925 New York State Census, they were still living at 150 Tompkins Avenue.
According to the 1930 Federal Census, Gussie and Harvey and their 3 children were living at 107 St. John Place in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.
When her son, Arthur, was away at medical school in Cincinnati, she and her husband, wrote to him regularly. The letters were always written in Yiddish. Luckily, my cousin Andy had saved many of them and I was able to get them translated by people in the Facebook Group, Tracing the Tribe. Gussie said almost the same thing in every letter so here is an example of one that was written on October 3, 1934:
My Dear Son, __ , may your life be filled with ‘naches’ (pleasure) and joy. Take good care of yourself. Eat good. Drink good. And sleep. Because I like a ‘good-lookin’ son. Mildred works very hard, she eats almost nothing and hardly sleeps. Write to her and tell her to take care of herself because it hurts me when I see this!
“Be well. Write soon. Your mother, Gussie.
“Regards to all”.
Harvey died from a heart attack on Nov. 21, 1934. He had just returned home from a walk to announce that he would be back to work the next day. He had been at home for a few years from a first massive heart attack. From a letter MIldred wrote to her brother, Arthur, who was away at medical school, Harvey died in Gussie’s arms. The letter is posted on Harvey’s page under the Blieden menu.
Before Harvey died they were living at 1337 Park Place.
After Harvey’s death, Gussie continued to live in Brooklyn. At first she lived at 55 Union Street, with Arthur, Bernie, Mildred and a boarder, Solomon Zucker. We learn this from the 1940 United States Census. Sometimes she would watch the neighborhood children to earn a little money.
Union Street was either in or near the Carroll Garden section of Brooklyn. It was likely named for the Union Army following the Civil War.
Today 55 Union Street is a trucking company parking lot but the picture on the right (58 Union Street) gives you an idea of what their building probably looked like.
As we were growing up, we visited her regularly at 32 Lenox Road, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. The building was built in 1929 and had 6 elevators and 59 apartments. We did take an elevator up to her apartment, but I don’t remember what floor she lived on.
I remember the rocking chair that had been Grandpa Harvey’s and the bedroom dressing table with its 3-way mirror. I would love to sit there and count how many “Tara’s” I could see. Both Grandma Gussie, and Grandma Minnie, had fox stoles with the fox face on them. They would both scare me to death chasing me all over wagging those stoles at me. They knew it frightened me and they thought that was funny!
Her daughter, Mildred, married Emanuel (manny) Rich on June 8, 1940. On May 23, 1943, Mildred gave birth to a son, Harvey, Gussie’s first grandchild.
In 1947, Mildred gave birth to a daughter, Alice, who was Gussie’s 3rd grandchild.
In January of 1947, her granddaughter, Tara, was born to Gussie’s son Bernie and his wife, May.
Gussie and Harvey | Gussie holding Alice and Harvey is standing | Gussie holding Harvey’s and Tara’s hands and Alice is crouched down
Here is Gussie and MIldred Drosin, her son Arthur’s mother-in-law in 1955. Her son, Arthur, married Lois Drosin on May 9, 1948.
As Grandma Gussie got older, she lived in our Teaneck house for a while. Then in 1966, Pop and Uncle Arthur moved her to an apartment in Teaneck, NJ, so it would be easier to look after her. They did not tell Aunt Mildred they were cleaning out her Brooklyn apartment and being guys, they threw everything out. Aunt Mildred was not happy when she realized what they had done.
Grandma Gussie always wanted to dance at my wedding, but sadly, she died about 6 months before and never knew I was planning on getting married in the summer of 1967. She had had several mild strokes and was now in a nursing home in Jersey City, NJ. Because I was away at college, my father, following in his mother’s footsteps, did not tell me she died until after she had been buried. I was furious. Here is one of the letters he sent me:
Later that Spring when Grandma Gussie’s 9 grandchildren were all together, Uncle Arthur called us into his dining room, sat us down, and divided Grandma’s babysitting money amongst us. We each got $200 and Stan and I opened our first joint checking account with that gift.
Although Harvey was originally buried in Mt. Judah cemetery in Queens, NY, his son, Bernie, had his headstone moved next to Gussie’s. They are buried in the Blieden family plot in Beth-El Cemetery in Paramus NJ. (7)
Yiskor plaque is from the Teaneck Jewish Community Center, Teaneck, New Jersey
Blogs About Grandma Gussie
- For more stories and memories about Gussie, check out the blog published on 2/24/2018 called “Memories of Grandma Gussie”.
- For a detailed description of her immigration journey, check out the blog published on 4/17/2023 called “From Mitau to Manhattan: Grandma Gussie’s Journey to the United States in 1904“
- For a description of a book that Grandma owned and what I found written in it, check out the blog published on 4/25/2023 called “The Book Called “The Book of Pearls“”.
- (1) 1905 NY Census
- New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 08 E.D. 01; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 59
- (2) 1908 NY Directory Listing for Max Abramowitz from the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. (1908). New York City directory
- (3) The History of the Upper East Side
- (4) Engagement Ketubah translation by various members of the Facebook group, Tracing the Tribe
- (5) 1910 US Census on Ancestry.com
- Year: 1910; Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 21, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_969; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 0496; FHL microfilm: 1374982
- (6) 1915 New York State Census on Ancestry.com
- New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 08; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: Kings; Page: 35
- (7) 1920 US Census on Ancestry.com
- Year: 1920; Census Place: Brooklyn Assembly District 6, Kings, New York; Roll: T625_1153; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 349
- (8) 1925 NY State Census on Ancestry.com
- New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 13; Assembly District: 06; City: Brooklyn; County: Kings; Page: 7
- (9) 1930 US Census on Ancestry.com
- Year: 1930; Census Place: Brooklyn, Kings, New York; Roll: 1528; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0711; FHL microfilm: 2341263
- (10) 1940 US Census on Ancestry.com
- Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, Kings, New York; Roll: T627_2580; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 24-1327
- (11) A Walk Up Union Street in Brooklyn
- (12) 58 Union Street
- (13) 32 Lenox Road
- (14) 1950 Census Record from Ancestry.com
- United States of America, Bureau of the Census; Washington, D.C.; Seventeenth Census of the United States, 1950; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007; Record Group Number: 29; Residence Date: 1950; Home in 1950: New York, Kings, New
- (15) Photos taken by family members
Outstanding Research Questions
- Where was Gussie born?
- Where and how did Gussie live as a little girl?
- Did Gussie have any contact with her family in Latvia once she came to the US?
- What kind of relationship did Gussie have with her sister, Sarah?