Max Brotman: When was he born?

Here’s another example of the inconsistency of records when it comes to birthdays.  On the 1900 US Census, Max gave his birthday as April, 1878.[1]  [Edited: On his naturalization application in 1900, he listed his birthdate as April 1877.] On the 1910 Census, he reported being thirty years old, meaning he was born around 1880.  On his draft registration in 1918, he gave his birthday as July 7, 1878.  On the 1920 Census, he said he was 45, making his birth year 1875.  In 1930, he said he was 50, meaning he was born in 1880.  In 1940, he claimed to be 60, again meaning he was born in 1880.  On his draft registration in 1942, he put his birthday as March 26, 1880. [2]

Today I received his death certificate.[3]  It has his birthdate as July 27, 1882!  He just kept getting younger (like we all wish we could, I suppose).  Since Hyman was born in either 1882 or 1883 and had a different mother than Max, it seems unlikely that Max was born in 1882.  I am going to assume that the earliest documents are more reliable (when he had less incentive to make himself younger) so that 1878 is the mostly likely year of birth.  As to the month? Who knows? Could be March, April, or July.  As I said in an earlier post, birthdays were not a big deal to Jews in Europe, so maybe he never knew the month, but wouldn’t people know what year they were born? We know Joseph’s age is equally mysterious—he could have been born any time between 1825 and 1855, depending on which document you read.  And Hyman also had two different birth years on his records.

The other inconsistency in these records is the year of immigration for Max.  The 1900 Census says he came in 1888; the 1910 and 1920 say it was 1890.  Finally, the 1930 Census says it was 1893.  I have applied for a copy of his naturalization records (which take 90 days to process, so it will be at least another two months before I get it), so perhaps those will be more accurate. [Edited: The naturalization application said 1882, when Max was at most five years old.]

Sometimes I wonder whether there was a certain level of paranoia among immigrants—people who had faced such hostility and oppression at the hand of the governments of the countries where they were born.  Maybe they just didn’t want to give the US government too much personal information.   Or maybe census takers just weren’t very careful note takers or very good listeners. Or maybe our relatives just liked to lie about their ages.

[1] All the documents are consistent with respect to his place of birth being Austria, though none specifies the town or city. [Edited: The naturalization application said Germany.]

[2] These documents are available on  If anyone is interested, I can download them and post them on the blog.

[3] More on his death certificate tomorrow.  I want to scan it and won’t get a chance tonight.

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