Street view


Monday was like Christmas in August for me.

Did the town rescind the plastic bag ban? Did the Town Council go back to being the Board of Selectmen?

Sadly, the answer to both of those questions is “no.” But something almost as good happened. The 2018 edition of my favorite book was released. I’m not talking about the Guinness Book of World Records or the World Almanac. I refer of course to the Wakefield Street List.

It’s not just because my photo of the World War II Memorial graces the cover of the new edition, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. I’ve actually been a fan of this annual page-turner for some time.

The Wakefield Street List has a long and storied history, dating back to at least the 1920s. Prior to publishing its own unique Street List, the town was included in a regional directory that included several other towns.

In the modern Street List, the town is divided into seven precincts. Each precinct section is organized alphabetically by street name, and residents are listed chronologically by house number. Occupations are listed for those who chose to include them when filling out their local census forms. Registered voters are indicated by an asterisk.

That’s basically the way it has always been organized, with slight differences. In the modern version, men and women are listed together in both the alphabetical section and the street-by-street section. That wasn’t always the case. More about that later.

Like all great books, the Street List has a subtitle: “A list of Persons, Male and Female, Residing in Wakefield, Massachusetts, 17 years of age and over, as canvassed by the Board of Registrars as of January 2017.”

A little wordy, but that’s least of the problems with the subtitle. As you may have already noticed, only males and females are listed. Where are the other 71 genders?

In truth, the Street List has come a long way in terms of inclusivity. In the earliest versions, they listed males and females separately throughout the book. Imagine if they still segregated the genders in the 2018 Street List. They’d need over 70 discrete sections to accommodate all of them.

There have been other changes over the years. The 2018 Street List sells for $20. The 1936 Street List (printed by the Wakefield Item Company) was a bargain at 50 cents.

The 1936 edition was published by the Board of Assessors. Today, the book is compiled by the Board of Registrars.

The current edition admonishes that “Any error or omission should be reported to the Board of Registrars promptly.”

The 1936 edition took a more circumspect approach. “The information contained in this book was procured from sources believed to be reliable,” the title page hedges, “but the publishers will assume no responsibility in any way for errors or omissions.”

I can see why they included the disclaimer.

In the 1936 edition, my grandmother is listed at 38 Richardson St. She was listed as Louise, although her name was Luisa. Her last name is spelled, “Sardela,” with one “l.” At the same address, my grandfather’s name was Anglicized from “Elia” to “Leo,” which, in fairness, was what people called him. His last name has the double-l, but it has an “o” instead of an “a” at the end. So according to the 1936 Street List, my grandmother, “Louise Sardela,” was apparently married to some guy named Leo Sardello.

I attribute these errors to Yankee clerks who couldn’t spell an Italian name to save their lives.

Unfortunately, some of the most interesting information has been dropped from the Street List over the years, such as residents’ ages, their “nationality” and their place of residence the previous year. The fact that you could at one time look up someone’s age was one of the reasons some people dubbed the Street List “the nosy book.”

But the best thing about the 2018 Street List is that, like all of the previous editions, it will be preserved forever in one form or another – along with my photo of the World War II Memorial.

[This column originally appeared in the August 23, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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