ICYMI: Researching famous people

Garceau Ruth 1
The first page of George Herman Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 2 July 2015.]

Census records, passport applications, draft cards: many people are familiar with these resources because of their ability to tell us more about our own family history. However, they are often underutilized as a tool for understanding the lives of famous individuals. One notable celebrity of the early twentieth century who left quite a trail of records was George Herman “Babe” Ruth, perhaps the most well-known American baseball player of all time. Because of this, we are able to construct a biographical narrative of his experiences using records available to the public which were recorded during his lifetime. In this entry, we will discuss some of these records and precisely what they tell us about the life of Babe Ruth.

According to the 1900 United States Census, George Herman Ruth was born in Maryland in February 1895 and at the age of 5 was living with his father, George H. Ruth Sr., a lightning rod salesman, and his mother, Kate Ruth, at 339 South Woodyear Street in Baltimore.1 A search for this address on digital street view software shows us that the property is a two-story red brick town house.

Interestingly, in 1910, George H. Ruth can be found in two locations in Baltimore, both providing a good deal of insight into his childhood. The first record shows that George was a pupil at the St. Mary’s Industrial School on 2 April 1910.2 This record also lists the other pupils at St. Mary’s, giving researchers a sense of the individuals who grew up alongside Babe Ruth. Later that same year, he was living in his parents’ home at 400 West Conway Street, just behind Camden Yards, the current home of the Baltimore Orioles. (In 1910, this address was just beyond the Camden Station railroad stop.3)

Garceau Ruth 2
Ruth’s World War I Draft Registration card, 1917.

Babe Ruth’s career in professional baseball began in 1914, when the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles (unrelated to the current major league franchise) sold Babe’s contract to the Boston Red Sox.4 The first publicly available record for Babe Ruth during his time in Boston was a World War I Draft Card which provides interesting information for researchers.5 Ruth gives his date of birth here as 7 February 1894, and not 1895 as he had in the past. The record also lists his occupation as “base ball” and he was employed by “Boston American.” (Boston had two baseball teams at the time: the Boston American League club, the Red Sox, and the Boston Braves of the National League.) Ruth’s place of employment was given as “Fenway Park.” Another noteworthy element of this record is that Babe Ruth’s address was listed as 680 Commonwealth Avenue. An examination of the current location on virtual maps shows that the address is now part of the student housing at Boston University, within walking distance of Fenway Park, hardly the extravagant living arrangements maintained by most Major League Baseball players today.

Garceau Ruth 3
The second page of Ruth’s 1920 passport application.

In 1920, once George Herman Ruth’s baseball career took off and he was known to fans as Babe Ruth, we find even more intriguing records. According to a passport application from 27 October 1920, George Herman Ruth was born 7 February 1895 at Baltimore. His father lived in Baltimore from his birth in 1871 until his death in 1917. Babe Ruth was now residing at 674 161st Street in New York while work as a ‘ballplayer.’6 The passport was for a trip to Havana, Cuba, where Ruth intended to engage in “baseball playing.” The passport even includes a picture of Ruth and his wife in their everyday clothes. Interestingly, the application requested that the passport be sent to the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, perhaps another residence of the Ruth family. Further research shows that Babe arrived at Havana on 30 October and while playing, he garnered $2,000 per game.7

As seen in the passport application, Babe Ruth was residing in New York by 1920. As many Red Sox fans know (and often lament), Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees in 1920, explaining his change of location.8 In 1925, Ruth would be listed with his wife Helen and daughter Dorothy H. at 900 Grand Concourse in the Bronx, just a stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium, where Ruth played for the Yankees from 1920 to 1934.9

In 1930, while still playing for the Yankees, Ruth was recorded in the household of the parents of his second wife, Clara Merritt.10 This record indicates a remarriage and a change in location for Ruth, providing researchers with more personal information on the legendary ballplayer.

In 1935, Ruth was hired as the manager of the Boston Braves, a position he held for only one season. Because there was not a State Census in Massachusetts in 1935, Ruth did not leave any notable records for researchers. However, after not being hired by other major league teams we see that he returned to New York City in 1936, as evidenced by a ship manifest dated 20 February 1935 which lists his home address as 345 W. 88th Street in New York City.11 A departure record for Babe Ruth shows that he left Southampton, England, on 13 February 1935 and indicated that the Ruth family had been staying at the Savoy Hotel in Central London.13

By 1940, Ruth was once again residing in New York City, this time at 153 Riverside Drive.14 The final record we located for Babe Ruth was a World War II Draft Card which gave his date of birth as 6 February 1895, not the 7th as was recorded previously. Ruth stated that he was self-employed and again living at 173 Riverside Drive. The passport description of his height (6’2”) and weight (240 pounds with a ruddy complexion) show that even in his later years Ruth was a large man.15 Babe Ruth passed away in 1948.

Genealogical records are most often used for finding one’s ancestors and their utility to historians, teachers, and amateur researchers in regards to famous individuals is often overlooked. The records publicly available for George Herman “Babe” Ruth help to paint a vivid picture of the life of one of America’s most well-known athletes. The usefulness of records used by genealogists everyday can easily be applied to individuals of significant fame.

Notes

1 Household of George H. Ruth, Baltimore, Baltimore Co., 1900 United States Census, Maryland; Roll: 617; Page:15A; Enumeration District: 0262; Family History Library microfilm: 1240617

2 St. Mary’s Industrial School, Baltimore, 1910 United States Census, Maryland; Roll: T624_552; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0056; FHL microfilm: 1374565.

3 Household of George H. Ruth, Baltimore, 1910 United States Census, Maryland; Roll: T624_561; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0373; FHL microfilm: 1374574.

4 Leigh Montville, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth (New York: Broadway Books, 2006), pp. 40–41.

5 World War I Draft Cards, 1917-1918, ancestry.com,  Roll: 1684938; Draft Board: 08 .

6 NARA, Passport Applications, Roll #: 1391; Volume #: Roll 1391 – Certificates: 102876-103249, 22 Oct. 1920-23 Oct. 1920. (The vital statistics on the second page of the passport application state that Ruth was aged 27, which must be a mistake.)

7 Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 160.

8 Montville, The Big Bam, pp. 40–41.

9 Household of George Herman Ruth, New York, Bronx Co., 1925 New York State Census, Election District: 31; Assembly District: 02; City: New York; County: Bronx; Page: 8

10 Household of Carrie Merritt, New York, New York Co., 1930 United States Census, New York,  Roll: 1556; Page: 47A; Enumeration District: 0434; Image: 491.0; FHL microfilm: 2341291.

11 New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 5609; Line: 1; Page Number: 14

13 Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, 13 Feb. 1935, P.M. 25.

14 Household of Claire Ruth, New York, New York, 1940 United States Census, New York;  Roll: T627_2642; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 31-786.

15 The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; State Headquarters: New York, World War II Draft Cards, George Herman Ruth, no. 2613.

About Zachary Garceau

Zack Garceau is a Researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Masters Degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a BA in history from the University of Rhode Island. He specializes in French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History.

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