52 Ancestors, week #20 – Where Are You Uncle Antanas?


No Story Too Small has issued a New Year’s Challenge: “Have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.”

In week #6, I featured my Lithuanian g-grandmother Salomėja (click here for Salomėja’s story).  I’ve always wondered what became of her eldest son, my mother’s paternal uncle, Antanas.

Antanas Baltrūnas (Anthony George Billie/Billings), was born 8 April 1898 in Preibiai, Panevezio, Lithuania to Juozas Baltrūnas (Joseph Billie) and Salomėja Markevičiūtė (Sally Morris).  He was baptized four days later on 12 April 1898, in nearby Pumpenai by the priest Jonas Jarašūnas of Pumpėnų Švč. Mergelės Marijos Škaplierinės bažnyčia (Pumpenai Church of the Blessed Mary of the Scapular).  His godparents were Antanas Markevičius (his mom’s brother) and Konstancija Arlauskaitė/Orlauskaitė (likely a maternal cousin of his dad).

In 1898, Lithuania was still using Julian dates while the United States was on the Gregorian calendar, a difference of 12 days Click here to read about the Julian to Gregorian switch .  So technically his birth occurred on 20 April 1898.

Anthony's birthAntanas Baltrūnas birth record

Salomėja and young Antanas, age 4 (the ship manifest lists him as age 3 years, 6 months), departed from Antwerp on 12 April 1902,  to America, on the Red Star Line’s Zeeland, arriving in New York on Tuesday, 22 April (click here for the ship manifest see line 25 & 26). 

 The NY Tribune reports the weather on that date as warm and fair with unseasonably high temperatures ranging from 64 to 85 degrees. It must have been stifling inside the crowded registry room. Children were asked their name to make sure they weren’t deaf or dumb, and those that looked over two-years-old were taken from their mothers’ arms and made to walk.

Their passage was paid by Juozas. The pair had tickets to  their final destination of 200 Wachonah Street in Pittsfield and $12 cash (about $332 in 2014 buying power).

By 1910, a 12 year old, Antanas is a student and called “Tony”. He resides with his parents who were enumerated as Salome M. Billy, a laundress working on her own account and Josep Billy, a molder at electrical works.  Siblings include: Charles (my mother’s father), age 6; Roland [Ralph], age 3 and Domind [Connie], age 1, all born in Massachusetts. The family is living at 87 Madison Ave, Pittsfield Ward 6, Berkshire, Massachusetts in a rented home. There are also 3 lodgers living with the family all male, single and Russian Polish – John Kidz, Jacob Gessing and Michael Jorg.

1910 census Ant

This was a difficult time for the family.  Juozas was physically abusive and an alcoholic.  A courageous Salomėja left him in 1911, taking the four children (ages 13, 7, 6 and 3) and relocating to Athol, Massachusetts near her brother Kazimieras/Charles Morris.  She had to rely on the city for assistance as Juozas did not feel obligated to pay child support.  Juozas remained on 87 Madison Avenue (when he wasn’t in jail) until 1916, when he disappears. He may have died, left the area or changed his name to avoid paying child support.

By 1917, a 19 year old Antanas, returned to board at 87 Madison Ave  and is listed in city directories as Antonio Billei, emp B Sheet Metal Works. Also at that address are Peter Verbisky and Kris Gelaznikas.

Antonio 1917

 

A draft registration card dated 12 Sep 1918 lists Anthony George Baltrunas born 20 Apr 1900 [likely incorrect as all other records concur with a 1898 birth year] as living on 289 First Street in Pittsfield. He is a chair builder for Berkshire Wooden Company on Ricks Road. He is of medium height and build and has blue eyes and light hair. He resides with Anthony Gaston/Gasson and wife Ona/Anna (Vyšniauskas/Wishnewski) Gasson (his mother’s niece through her sister Elžbieta).

Anthony's draft

By 1920, he is listed in the Athol city directory as Anton Baltrenas residing at 57 Pine r, Athol, Massachusetts (this is the same address where his mother and siblings were enumerated in the 1920 census, yet he was not listed with them). He was not found elsewhere in the 1920 census.

Antonio 1920

1920 census Ant

The 1922 Pittsfield City Directory lists “Anthony Billings,  emp 55 West, rms 128 Danforth av.”, also the home of Joseph and Nellie Gasson, a brother of his cousin’s husband Anthony Gasson (mentioned above). Note that the Joseph Billings listed in the directory is a different Joseph, not Antanas’ father.

Antonio 1922

The 1923 Pittsfield City Directory reads ”Anthony Billings, rem to Detroit Mich.

Antonio 1923

Others who relocated from Pittsfield to Detroit that same year include: George & Helen Mears, Angelo Constand, Henry B. Beach, Francis E. McMahon, Ettore Vecello, Mrs. Carrie Sweeney, Frank & Laura Ryniski, William & Alice Kowulske, Albert Zanda, Joseph B Oliver, Arthur J Blais.  No connection has been found to link these folks with Antanas. Did he travel alone?

Anthony’s whereabouts after 1923, when city directories indicate he left for Detroit, Michigan, are unknown.  His two nieces (Charles’ daughters) recall that one legged “Uncle Tony” arrived on Easter with solid chocolate bunnies for them (one Easter, many Easters?).  Details are fuzzy, but they recollect his joining the military, losing a leg and residing in New York; but to date no confirming records have been located. His sister Connie mentioned at brother Charles funeral that Anthony was her last living brother, so he presumably died after 1939 [the youngest niece would have been four and at an age to recall chocolate bunnies] and before 1959, likely never married and had no offspring.

I thought I had a lead, as the following names were found in the Detroit City Directory:

1925-1926  Billings Antonio cabtmkr 1930 Clarkdale

1928-1929  Billings Tony  cabtmkr 1930 Clarkdale

but….I determined through Naturalization records (declaration of intent) that this is probably not our Anthony; this one was born in 1873 in Lithuania and names his wife as Agota. This Anthony is living with the Stockes family in 1920 and 1930 and is listed as a cousin.

He could be under so many different names:

Antanas, Anthony George, Anton, Antoni, Antonio and Tony…

—Baltrūnas , Baltruniene, Baltrunene, Baltromei, Baltrenas, Baltrunew, Baltromei, Baltromieje, Barton, Bill, Billie, Billei, Billy, Billings and Biller (to name a few).

There is a candidate in the 1930 census – an Anton Balchunas working as a laborer at a logging camp in Davis, Pacific, Washington.  This Anton was born in Lithuania in 1898 and immigrated in 1902.  He naturalized and was divorced.  No further records have been uncovered about this man but there is an Antone Balchunas of the same age who died 20 Jan 1995 in Tacoma, Washington….. so this is likely not “our Tony”.   

No likely candidates were discovered in the WWII draft records.

So…. What happened to him? Did he make it to Detroit or detour along the way? Did he marry? Have children? Change careers? Was he an alcoholic? In the military? How did he lose a leg? Where did he live? Where is he buried? My mother “sort of” remembers that he died in New York.

Another brick wall. Hoping he will someday be found….

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