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Last time around, I wrote about finding my grandmother’s birth listed in a New England annual report — specifically that of Keene, New Hampshire, in 1914.

This time, we go back to the report for a closer read, to see what it tells us about the place where she was born. What was her corner of the world like at the moment she entered it?

We find Keene in 1914 as a city of about 10,000 people (it’s about 23,500 today).

It’s a city on the move, at least by its own modest standards, with population increasing almost 10 percent between 1900 and 1910. It has a fairly healthy manufacturing sector; maybe the growth reflects an increasing willingness among the area’s people to swap farming for well-paying jobs in a factory.

One of the city’s major employers is making threatening sounds. The Boston and Maine Railroad is hinting at what the report calls “a very considerable reduction in the working force” at its Keene repair shops. (Layoff anxiety is eternal.)

Among the city’s other companies are the Monadnock Shoe Co., Keene Mica Products Co., Ashuelot National Bank, the Sentinel newspaper and its affiliated printing company, the Burdett Chair Co., the Keene Glue Co., and the marvelously named Impervious Package Co.

There is no business specifically identifying itself as a brewery. Perhaps Keene does not have a large enough German population to support one. Or maybe the mood in town is starting to favor prohibition, which is only about five years away from becoming national law.

Keene is not a dry city, though. It has a liquor agent, Ervin M. Bullard, who reports purchasing and selling everything from New England rum to porter to California brandy to something called “cherry rum.” And H.O. Wardwell, clerk of the Board of Police Commissioners, reports 152 arrests for drunkenness and nine for violating liquor laws in the first three quarters of the year.

Wardwell also reports one arrest for operating an auto under the influence of liquor, and five for auto speeding. Clearly, the automobile is not a major transportation option in 1914 Keene. (Progress is coming: The fire department’s portion of the report recommends the purchase of an automotive fire truck.)

Keene might not be a dry city, in the alcoholic sense, but it sure is dusty. Of the 103 miles of roads in town, only about nine-and-a-half are paved. Each home or business abutting an unpaved road is charged $2 in taxes to pay for water sprinkling to hold down the dust.

Keene Gas and Electric has 522 incandescent streetlights installed in the city, the locations of which are noted in detail in the report. One is located opposite the city’s hospital, Elliot City Hospital, then at 305 Main St. Perhaps it lit Maud Wamboldt’s way there as she prepared to give birth (if indeed she gave birth there, and not in a private home).

Also, while water and sewer lines are still being laid, quite a few are already in place, and the report goes into detail about when each one was installed. One wonders how many of them, patched and repaired over the years, are still in service.

Exactly 1,969 students aged 5 to 16 are in the city’s public schools — 1,063 girls and 906 boys. I cannot remember how long my grandma lived in Keene, but I am not sure it was even long enough to ever make it into that statistic.

The report includes each of the resolutions passed by City Council during the year, and they make for an interesting combination of the important and the mundane:

  • “Sliding” (presumably sledding) is permitted from 4 to 9 p.m. on a section of upper Water Street.
  • No one can rent a room to use for dancing without obtaining the permission of the mayor (one Herbert Fay in 1914) and the city aldermen. A dance permit costs $2 per year.
  • The Lynn Wood Heel Co. is exempt from taxes for 10 years as a reward for moving its operations and machinery to town, with 150 jobs expected to be created.
  • An extensive set of driving and traffic laws, covering both autos and horse-drawn carriages, is passed six days before my grandmother’s birth. (There is no indication that these laws supersede anything already on the books.) Fines are anywhere from $1 to $10 per offense.
  • Nine hundred dollars is set aside for the construction of a concrete bridge over Beaver Brook on Church Street.

The state of New Hampshire has levied a bounty on hedgehogs, and the annual report lists a good 30 names of local men who have taken advantage of it. The most industrious, Ralph Manley, collects $1.60 for his work.

Keene has a college — then called Keene Normal School — but it’s only five years old in 1914 and doesn’t appear in the city’s annual report, except for a few brief mentions related to expenses.

Also mostly absent is World War I, freshly begun and not yet directly involving the U.S. There’s a reference to it in the library department’s report, of all places, but not much else. Keene, and the rest of the country, was still willing and able to stick to its own knitting in 1914.

Finally, William and Maude Wambolt and their two young daughters do not appear in the report, except for the Vital Statistics section mentioned in my previous post.

They didn’t owe any taxes; they didn’t serve on any city boards; they didn’t do anything else of note.

They just had a daughter, without whom you might have spent the last 10 minutes doing something more productive.

William Wamboldt.

William Wambolt.

Maud (LaBatt) Wamboldt.

Maude (LaBatt) Wambolt.

Twenty years ago, I learned to love the New England-style annual town report.

(It might be that towns in other parts of the country also issue these reports. But I came to know them in the context of New England small-town democracy, and they live there in my mind to this day.)

An annual town report is a snapshot of ongoing operations — the municipal equivalent of a public company’s annual report. It lists all the town’s relevant financial info at numbing length, as well as other operating data and the results of Town Meeting votes.

Department reports provide splashes of narrative amid all the numbers. The police chief might decry an increase in breaking and entering, while the Parks Commission might plump for money for a new dock at the town pond.

A recent annual report cover from one of the towns I used to cover. The full report can be seen here.

A typical annual report cover. This report is recent, but comes from one of the towns I used to cover back in the day. The full report can be seen here.

These reports were a staple at the chain of Boston-area weekly newspapers where I worked in 1996.

A year or two earlier, a reporter with a freshly issued annual report had had a genius idea. He’d written a snapshot-of-local-life cover story, based entirely on interesting info culled from the report — five births; six deaths; three marriages; 13 underage drinking arrests; 22 miles of town-owned road resurfaced; $4,020 in library overdue fines collected; and like that.

Combined with creative graphics, “Sherborn By The Numbers” or “Natick By The Numbers” made for addictive reading. (Basically, they were Internet listicles before such a thing existed.)

The only people who disliked these stories were town employees, who hated seeing their salaries in print. The supervisor of the local sewage plant once got salty with me after I included his salary; listed the amount of waste his plant processed that year; and did the math to find out what he got paid per gallon.

But, town employees’ salaries are public info. They’re in every town’s annual report. And the reports were available free to residents — in some places, every household got a copy in the mail. So we weren’t telling anybody anything they couldn’t have looked up themselves.

These by-the-numbers stories were so popular, and so easy, that every paper in the chain took to running them at annual report time.

Perhaps they still do.

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Twenty years later, I’ll still thumb through a town report whenever I find one. They’re like postcards from a place and time. You can see moments of real people’s lives if you squint at the numbers the right way.

I’ve been lost to the outside world lately, since I discovered that the University of New Hampshire Library has almost 15,800 annual reports from New Hampshire towns and cities available online.

Even though I’ve never lived in the Granite State, I’ve dived into the struggles and triumphs of its communities, from the Holderness Floods of 1973 to Derry’s celebration of hometown hero Alan Shepard a dozen years before. A few paragraphs after praising Shepard, the Derry report adds: “We hope to have our main street paved in 1962.”

(Charlie Baker, if you’re reading: You need to put some resources into closing the online annual-report gap. New Hampshire is housing you. Are you going to stand for that?)

I became doubly interested in UNH’s online treasure trove when I realized that I might find my paternal grandmother there.

She was born in Keene, in the southwest part of the state. And most town or city reports include what’s called Vital Statistics — a list of births, marriages and deaths recorded over the course of the year.

A few minutes with UNH’s marvelous archive and there she was, swaddled and screaming:

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You have to squint a little bit, but she’s the second line from the bottom — “Corrine,” born female and living on June 24, 1914, the second child of 30-year-old teamster Wm. L. Wamboldt and 33-year-old Maud LaBatt.

As far as I know, the two R’s in her first name are a typo. In my acquaintance with her, she was always Corine. Her mother’s hometown is also listed incorrectly: Maud LaBatt came from North Easton, N.Y., not “No. Eastern.”

(Regular readers have met and recently said goodbye to Corine’s older sibling, who was born two years earlier in Vermont. William and Maud had no other children before William’s death in 1920. Or after it, for that matter.)

Reading the list of births — nothing else in the report, just the births — is enough to paint a picture of Keene as a place torn between 20th-century cityhood and the roots of its rural surroundings. (Remember what I said about seeing real people’s lives if you squint the right way?)

For instance, there are 26 living births listed on “Corrine’s” page and only one stillbirth. The ratio is similar on other pages, and some list no stillbirths at all.

I’m no expert on public health, and just because all these children were born alive doesn’t guarantee they lived long.

But on the whole, it’s a better report than I would have expected from a small city in a rural region 100 years ago. It suggests that prenatal care was available in the area, and was making a difference.

On the other hand, there are birth reports from as far back as 1869 wedged in among the 1914 new arrivals. You can see 1894 and 1898 listed on “Corrine’s” page. The notion of promptly reporting a child’s birth, something we take for granted today, was clearly not yet standard.

I don’t know the full story, but I’m guessing these people were born on farms or in rural homes outlying Keene — maybe even without a doctor present — and no one bothered to file the notifications until years later, when they needed a birth record to accomplish some goal or other.

I’ve prattled on a while at this point, but there’s a lot more to discuss in the Keene annual report.

I think I’ll do a little more squinting for my next post, and see what more I can deduce about the time and place in which my grandma was born.

(For those who can’t bear the suspense, the 1914 Keene annual report can be downloaded here.)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my grandfather’s purchase of his first car, a brand-new 1949 Ford Fordor sedan.

I’m gonna duck back to that for a couple more seconds, to share another memento that shows what the big day meant to my grandpa.

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My dad was kind enough to scan this in from the family photo scrapbook my grandfather was keeping in the late ’40s.

The treatment given to the arrival of the new car was “bigger than anything else save for the arrival of Elaine and me,” my dad says.

(Regular readers here will recognize that my grandpa pulled out the explosion motif only for big occasions. He must truly have seen this as a major addition to the family. Did people in other countries get so excited about their cars, or was it just an American thing?)

It’s probably a trick of perspective, but the Fordor — touted in its own catalog as “a living room on wheels” and “a big car” — really doesn’t look that big to me, especially in the first of the two pictures.

I’m not going to go so far as to look up comparative wheelbase lengths, but the Fordor to my eyes looks almost … midsize. Maybe it’s a function of the car’s clean design. Or maybe you just had to be there.

All I know is, other cars that showed up in the Hope Street driveway over the years looked a whole lot bigger than that one.

Summer 1963: Imported from Detroit.

Oh, hi again, Dad.

Which leads into another Hope Street observation my dad made: You’ll notice the driveway in the 1949 pictures is pure grass, because no car had troubled it for any length of time.

When my dad got his first car — circa summer 1963, shown above — the back part of the driveway at Hope Street had been worn down to ruts. (The front section closest to the house and street was paved, but the back half never was.)

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July 1983. Behind me you can see the point where the pavement stopped and the ruts took over.

One last family note: You’ll see (especially if WordPress allows the photo to be expanded) that the first license plate number Connecticut bestowed on my grandpa was JR-932.

My grandpa saved all his license plates over the years, as well as the little punched-out metal tags that were placed on them as yearly registration markers. And when his grandson came along with an interest in cars and history, they got passed down.

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(I’m not sure this plate was actually used in 1956; I vaguely recall mixing and matching the metal tags off my grandpa’s old plates once when I was a kid.)

I enjoy the thought of my grandfather looking through a parking lot — outside work, or at his kids’ school, or at the commuter rail station — and his eyes lighting on JR 932, and his simultaneously feeling a small swell of pride and the comfortable recognition of, yup, that’s mine.

No sooner does one member leave the extended family than another (bless her) joins it.

May’s a big month for weddings; and by and large, the men in my immediate family seem to favor it.

Not sure there’s any deep-seated reason for that. Maybe we all want to get things over with as soon as the weather’s favorable, and early enough that our summers stay free. Or maybe, generation after generation, some occult hand keeps our venues of choice free in May so we can each find an open date.

Anyway, my older brother is the latest to board the May train. By the time you read this, he will be two days married. I am flying out to San Francisco to be there for the big day, and am much looking forward to it. (The big day, not the flying.)

I’ve been on the same train a while myself. Two days after this post goes live, I will mark my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were only a year out of college when we got married, and I suspect we chose our date so our friends who were still in school could come out and join us before they scattered for the summer.

My grandpa and grandma picked the first half of May as well, for reasons lost to history. They were married for almost 60 years.

This week’s calendar entry finds them at the same point in time I’m at now:

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May 3, 1961. I wonder where they went out to eat.

I would love to be able to tell you how to make a marriage last for 20 years, much less 60, but I am devoid of wisdom or vision. I just get up every morning and go to sleep every night and somehow the years go by.

(Of course, many of my readers have been married longer than I have and have no need for my advice. I’m just saying that I searched my soul and found nothing. It’s happened before.)

My brother and his wife invited their friends and siblings to share their thoughts on love and marriage — to email them to the celebrant for inclusion in the ceremony. My thoughts didn’t figure into it, because I couldn’t come up with any.

I briefly considered inventing a friend for Eric and sending in something absurdly flowery: “Eric’s friend Hassan says, ‘Love is like a welter of gleaming pearls, radiant in their brilliance. No, diamonds!'” But then I decided that pranking my brother’s wedding ceremony was probably a classless thing to do, so I kept my mouth shut. Except on my blog.

I dunno. Maybe there isn’t a fancy formula or mission statement that captures the soul of marriage. Maybe it’s different for everybody. Or maybe the secret is buried so deep in the stream of days and months that it’s hard to see.

At any rate, whatever it takes to keep two people happy together and pulling in the same direction, I hope my brother and his wife discover it together.

And I hope it only seems like months before they go out for their own 20th anniversary.

It is Saturday, April 30, 1949. The Yanks are already in first; the Giants and Dodgers are not far back.

It’s a slow news day. There’s not much in regional papers except wire-service dispatches related to Communism and post-World War II Europe, and not particularly meaty dispatches at that. In one piquant news item, the wife of a G.I. shaves the head of her husband’s 18-year-old German girlfriend and douses her with acid.

The NATO defense alliance is roughly one month old. So is Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution is not being televised, but other things are: Arturo Toscanini has recently conducted Aida on NBC live from Rockefeller Center, while Milton Berle is three weeks away from landing on the cover of Time magazine. (Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S., is on this week’s cover.)

In New Canaan, Conn., a 38-year-old family man from nearby Stamford is registering himself as a firm supporter of capitalism. He’s signing papers, handing over checks, and achieving a core piece of the American dream.

His own wheels.

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As shown on the receipt below, this is the payment for license plates (“markers”), not for the full car.

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This was definitely my grandpa’s first new car; it may have been his first car of any kind. (You’ll note no mention of a used car on the receipt.)

Either way, I’m sure he was thrilled to take delivery.

For one thing, he had two young children, and he certainly wanted to move his family in safety and style.

For another, he’d been waiting for this car for a while. A handwritten sheet of his notes — yeah, that got saved too — suggests he’d put down a $100 deposit on his car two months before. I bet he spent plenty of time between February 5 and April 30 daydreaming about his new ride.

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Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering if any examples of my grandparents’ stationery still existed. The answer: Yes.

So what did he spend, and what did he drive away in?

$1,757 in 1949 money equals roughly $17,580 in today’s money, according to online inflation calculators. That’s more or less the MSRP for a brand-new Ford Focus sedan today. So, it’s good to know that the cost of a relatively low-frills family hauler bought straight off the lot maybe hasn’t gone up that much.

But, while today’s Ford Focus makes at least an attempt to be sporty, efficient and maneuverable, its 1949 equivalent proudly advertised itself as “a living room on wheels!”

Seriously, see for yourself:

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Ah, for the days when a car could be advertised as “as deep and comfortable as your sofa.”

It’s easy to jab at the styles of the past, but the Ford Fordor sedan (the coupe, inevitably, was called the Tudor) was actually a fairly exciting item in ’49. According to Wikipedia, the ’49 Ford line was the first all-new design introduced by the Big Three automakers after World War II.

Wiki goes so far as to say that the popular and attractive ’49 design saved the struggling company, and that 100,000 orders were taken on the cars’ first day of availability. I wonder if my grandpa’s order was among them.

Judging from his notes, he was torn between black, Midland Maroon and Sea Mist Green. He chose black. Based on a review of the paint chips, I would have picked the maroon, myself. But, it’s easy to jab at the styles of the past.

I also note that he sprung for a heater, but not for a radio. This is consistent with his later behavior: The car he drove 40 years later when I was in high school didn’t have a radio either. He liked music fine, but not while he was driving, apparently.

Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes on why he chose Ford over a number of other American automakers.

I’ve written many times about his loyalty to Fords, which continued until the early 1980s. That loyalty would have started here, in the spring of 1949, but I don’t know the reasons behind it. Maybe the brand-new style got him started as a customer and build quality kept him there.

Finally, I always enjoy Googling the landmarks of my grandpa’s time and seeing what’s going on there now.

You can’t buy a Ford at the intersection of Forest Street and Locust Avenue in New Canaan any more; but you can, if the New York Times is to be believed, dine quite nicely on brick-oven pizza and Italian nosh-plates.

An online search finds New Canaan Motor Sales carrying on into the early ’60s. I’m guessing the dealership changed its name at some point, but I don’t know what it became or how long it lasted.

(Back in the ’50s, New Canaan Motor Sales used to advertise at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in New Canaan — the next station up the line from Springdale, and a location my grandpa photographed some years later. Perhaps the auto ad along the platform in my grandpa’s photo is for some dealership descended from New Canaan Motor Sales. Alas, the photo gets no larger.)

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970.

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970. This seems like a good place to stop.