Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the Bookshelf: The Jews of Sing Sing

I finished reading The Jews of Sing Sing on my Kindle last night.  This book by Ron Arons shares the story of his own ancestor who spent time in Sing Sing as well as other Jewish prisoners who spent time in the famous New York prison. 

This book is the result of an interesting research project that Arons tackled.  He took information he was able to gather about Jewish prisoners in Sing Sing and then conducted genealogical research on the prisoners including looking at census data, World War I draft registrations, newspaper articles, court records, civil registrations and more. 

A few things struck me as I was reading this book.  One is that people have always been pretty much the same.  They are motivated by the same things and they commit crimes as they always have.  This is the story of dysfunctional families, youth offenders, illegal substances and gang activity. Our ancestors were not all angels.

The other thing that I have been contemplating centers around Arons' discussion about bigamy.  He discusses the reason that bigamy occurred in the early 20th century was because of common law marriage, the inability of partners to prove that they were married, and the prohibitive cost of divorce.

I tend to think that bigamy happened a lot more than we realize.  Not only for the reasons Arons cites but also because of the burden of proof you needed in a divorce as well as how easy it was to just get up one day and walk away.  I've seen this in some of the research I've done.  Two of my clients had a fathers and a grandfather who just left one day and never returned.  In one case the father only moved to the next county and in the other he came to America.  But in both cases the men married women without dissolving their first marriage.  Sometimes there may not be divorce papers because the couple never officially separated.

Arons book is available on his website, http://www.ronarons.com/index.php and on Amazon.  This particular book is available for download to your Kindle.

I'm interested in reading Arons' second book which looks to be a result of what he learned researching The Jews of Sing Sing.  His website says that, Wanted! U.S. Criminal Records, "is your one-stop reference for information sources about criminals from America’s past. WANTED! lists archives, libraries, courts and online sites containing numerous sets of criminal information..." 

Wanted! is only available from Arons' website at http://www.ronarons.com/wanted.php .

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