My grandparents’ bold move after the 1950 census

Sepia Saturday 620. Fourth in a series about family history discoveries in the recently released 1950 U.S. census.

My maternal grandparents, Antonio W. and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, were born, grew up and raised their daughters in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

They had spent their lives, even after they married, in close proximity to their extended families. So when 1950 rolled around and they were about to become empty nesters at midlife, they clearly longed for something new.

1951: The barn at the farm in Altamont, Albany Co., NY that would become my grandfather’s shop. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Gramps at age 47

My maternal grandfather Antonio was a jack of all trades. Known as Tony to his peers, he was Gramps to our family — the oldest son of Italian immigrant Peter Di Lorenzo (anglicized to Laurence) and Mary “Mamie” Curcio, a first-generation Italian American (who we called Little Grandma because of her short stature).

Gramps was a skilled machinist who had studied auto mechanics in Detroit. He was also a veteran of his father Peter’s garage and auto parts business — and in 1940 was the proprietor of a used car business. By 1950, however, Gloversville was starting to decline and he was contemplating a new future.

Circa 1955: My maternal grandmother’s country and early American antique shop at the farm in Altamont, Albany County, N.Y. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Boom at age 44

My maternal grandmother Elizabeth, known to us a Boom after I mispronounced Grandma as Booma, also wanted a change at midlife.

Boom was young as grandmothers went, and always kept up with the latest fashions, footwear and accessories. She was modern in other ways, too. She learned to drive and loved to get behind the wheel — and she wasn’t shy about hitting the gas pedal, either.

She had also attended teacher’s college, but put her skills on hold while raising a family. As 1950 dawned, Boom dreamed of putting her skills and creativity to work once more.

My grandparents’ bold move

When the census taker called in April 1950, my grandparents were preparing for their bold move.

Their plan? To leave their Gloversville hometown to find a property large enough to house them, my parents, me and my future siblings — and to establish their own money-making businesses.

Hence, as revealed by the 1950 census, they lived in a rented apartment, my grandfather had left his job and was “looking for work” — as was my father, since our family would be joining them. And that’s how we all ended up at Whispering Chimneys in 1951 — a 10 acre farm in Altamont, Albany Co., N.Y. (Shown below.)

1950s: Arial view of Whispering Chimneys, our family farm on Route 20 in Altamont, Albany Co., N.Y. My grandfather’s machine shop was in the large barn at upper left. My grandmother’s antique shop was at the lower right near the circular drive through. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Leaving family behind

Meanwhile, my grandparents’ transition was not easy for the family they left behind. Although Altamont was only an hour from Gloversville by car, Little Grandma (Gramps’s mom) was beside herself.

“She cried and hugged him and carried on like he was never coming back,” Dad told me. But Gramps was determined and eyed the barn at the farm for his future machine shop.

Meanwhile, Boom cleared a farm building down by the road for a shop specializing in country and early American antiques and collectibles.

“She absolutely loved that shop,” my mom told me.

Boom named her business Whispering Chimneys Antiques and took full advantage of its location along Route 20 — a major thoroughfare before the New York State Thruway was built.

A well-matched team

At midlife, Boom and Gramps appeared to be a well-matched couple with similar aspirations. When she had ideas, Gramps had the practical skills to assist — building this and that as needed, like a sign for her shop or a bank of windows to let light into the barn.

Together my maternal grandparents made a good team — and how wonderful to have the 1950 US census catalog them just as they were planning their bold move.

Up next: Family occupation descriptions in the 1950 US census. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2022 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “My grandparents’ bold move after the 1950 census”

  1. Once again, a wonderful insight into your family! Love your names for your grandmother and great gbrandmother! 😉
    How were you able to get the arial shot of the farm? Cant’t wait for your next post! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Diane. Re the aerial shot, in the 1950s-60s there were commercial photographers who went up in small planes and took aerial shots of vast stretches of the countryside. Then they would contact homeowners to see if they wanted to purchase the photos. Luckily, either my parents or grandparents bought the photo of the farm.

  2. They were really quite young! Only in their 40s. It’s great they were able to make that change and start a chapter in their lives and you were there! Your information about their move etc also shows what is not included in the census. If you just had the information in that record, and then checked in on them in 1960, you would not realize the story behind it all. Great story.

    1. Thanks, Kristin, and so true. The 1950 US census has helped me put their move to the farm in context — from their ages to living in a rental apartment to my grandfather being between jobs. But already having the family details has also given context to the census entries.

  3. A fascinating story , all the more impressive by being recorded in a very recent national census. You are so lucky in having 1950 records available. Here in England and Wales we were pleased to see earlier this year the release of the 1921 census, as there is a 100 year on the release of census returns. It will be 2052 before we see the next one – as the 1931 census was destroyed in a fire and of course none was held during the war. I look forward to finding out how your grandparents prospered in their new venture.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I commiserate with you over the challenge of researching when records are scarce or embargoed. Hopefully your have workarounds of other records to add depth to your family’s stories.

  4. Another great introduction to your family’s adventures, Molly, and proof that change is possible at any age. Your story got me thinking about how the idea of emigration is not just about leaving a foreign country. The 1950s, or really the post-war era from 1945, marked a new era of internal American migration but people were no longer constrained to follow just wagon trails or railroad tracks. America’s improved roadways and automotive industry were changing the old time/distance equation of geography and inspiring people to seek new places to live beyond the old family farm or small town.

    1. So true, Mike. The post-war era and the rise of large corporations in many cases ended the multi-generational family living in one place. My grandparents were the first of their generation to leave their Gloversville, N.Y., hometown. And my parents lived in six different locations in three states as a result of job-related moves. All this leads to interesting challenges tracking their histories.

  5. As always, you’ve left me waiting for the next chapter! Sounds like it’s going to be a good one! 🙂

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