Finding John Costello

Finding John Costello – Tightening up the Timeline

Finding John Costello


The recent revelations from Aunt Virginia about Grandpa Costello’s Jewish experiences in Spokane made me realize I needed to dig MUCH deeper into his life in Spokane.

Aunt Virginia shared this, “His business was in a Jewish area, his friends were Jewish and he went to synagogue once in a while.”


All brand new information.

What could I do with that?

My first thought was – addresses.  I needed to create a very tight timeline with his addresses in Spokane.  Where did he live when he married Grandma?  Where was his business located?  Where were the local synagogues?

I dug into the records I had already collected about Grandpa John and created a timeline in a Google Sheet.  There were plenty of gaps.  Time to tighten it up with some City Directory searching.

So, away I went.  I was filling in holes left and right.  Things were getting nice and specific.  And then, something completely amazing happened.

I found a record about Grandpa Costello from before his marriage to Grandma Costello.


Oh boy!  This was a first for sure.


COSTELLO, John, 1918 Spokane City Directory
Image courtesy of


There he is.  John Costello, occupation – junk.  I don’t think the word junk has ever looked quite so beautiful to me.

You see, Grandpa Costello was a junk man.  He collected used tires, batteries, etc and sold them.  He was the only John Costello in Spokane who was a junk man during this time period and here he was, using the name John Costello, living in Spokane BEFORE he married Grandma.

The 1918 Spokane City Directory has a copyright date of February 1918.  Given the likely timeline of gathering the data prior to publication, Grandpa John must have been in Spokane by late 1917.

Do you know what that means?

There should be a WWI Draft Registration record for Grandpa Costello.

I had looked before, but it had been a long time, and back then, I didn’t know that Grandpa Costello was already in Spokane in time to be registered there.

But he was.


COSTELLO, John, WWI Draft Registration with highlights
Image courtesy of



Another pre-marriage record!

There are a few interesting things to note with this record.  First, his signature is a match to the other signatures I have for him – thank goodness because his surname at the top is not very legible.  Second, the date of the record – 5 June 1917, the earliest record so far.  Third, his occupation, a misspelled version of Junk Business.  Fourth, and by far the most interesting, his birthdate.

His bogus birthdate.

The birthdate we have always used for Grandpa Costello is 14 February 1893.

Probably also a bogus birthdate.

But still, that date is the one we use.  It’s found in his Alien File, on his WWII Draft Registration, and on his headstone.  I’ve often wondered if he chose that birthdate at random.  Valentine’s Day?  It feels, manufactured.  When I saw the birthdate on this WWI Draft Registration – a birthdate of 4 July 1890 – I couldn’t help but think my suspicion was correct.

Very patriotic for the non-citizen, the 4th of July.

I have no idea what his actual birthdate is.

I wonder if he knew what his actual birthdate was?

I also don’t think I know his real name.

John Costello?

Based on the lack of immigration and travel records for anyone even kind of resembling John Costello in the right time frame, and the slew of John Costello DNA matches who all descend from Eastern European Jews, I don’t think John Costello was always Grandpa’s name.  Makes sense, right?

Assuming I am correct, I have wondered if the name “John Costello” came about when he met Grandma or around that time frame.

It appears not.

Grandpa was using the name John Costello on 5 June 1917 – eighteen whole months before he married Grandma.

So, what do these records mean?

I have two more addresses and dates for Grandpa Costello – from BEFORE his marriage to Grandma!  I also have a pattern of him using the name John Costello in Spokane prior to marrying Grandma.  That name and those addresses just might help me find Grandpa Costello in synagogue records.

What information might I find in synagogue records?

I have no idea!

I have never seen any.  But I’m hoping to change that.

I have tracked down the historian of one synagogue in Spokane and I sent him an email.  I’m waiting to hear back.

The more I dig, the more avenues are opening up for me.  This is so exciting!  I seriously thought I had found everything-ish about Grandpa Costello in Spokane.

What is the lesson?

Look again.

And . . . keep a good research log.  I had searched City Directories and WWI Draft Registrations before.  But it was a long time ago.  Now, I am so much better at creating specific search terms and altering them to get just what I am looking for.

I remember hearing Josh Taylor once say that we need to note our search terms.  He’s totally right.  Instead of thinking, “I’ve searched the Spokane City Directories before,” I could look at my research log and see HOW I searched them to know if I need to search them again or to see if the collection itself has changed based on the title.

So guess what I’m wondering now?

What were my search terms the many, many times I have searched through immigration and travel records?!

Oh boy, time for some more searching!


And . . . do any of my Jewish friends have any tips for me regarding Synagogue records?  I’m happily accepting all suggestions, bits of info, etc.



Happy Wednesday, I hope you make a new genealogical discovery very soon!  xoxo




36 thoughts on “Finding John Costello – Tightening up the Timeline”

  1. So they usually have records of bar and bat mitzvah. But he was there after that. They also have records of a person’s Hebrew name to call them to the Torah. But not sure how long they keep those. Should also have a record of him being a member if he actually joined a congregation. Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! If he was attending occasionally, would he have a “membership” record or would he have had to be more actively participating and seek to acutally join the congregation? Also, what exactly is involved in joining a congregation?

      My frame of reference is my Mom’s Catholic roots which were pretty relaxed and mostly had to do with attending Catholic School and then my own experience in the LDS church where my membership record was created at birth and follows me when I move. Our location congregations are determined by geography not choice.

      1. You actually pay dues now to belong. Not sure how it would have been then but everyone was expected to help pay. And you belong to the congregation of your choice. But there probably were not too many choices then. Then of course he wasn’t buried in a Jewish cemetery so you don’t have that information. The biggest info you might get is his father’s Hebrew name. Because although he might lie about everything else, when being called to read the Torah you use your Hebrew name and then your father’s. Now a bit more open. But then probably the only way. I also would assume his Hebrew name started with a J (y) sound. No j in Hebrew. But y is often turn into J. For example Yaacov is Jacob.

        1. Very helpful, thank you, Ellen! I wonder if I can gain access to some records in Spokane. I would love to see if I can find a trace of him. If so, who were his friends, associates, etc? That may help me figure some things out.

          1. I am not sure if you would find that, however if he served in some official role you would get more information. One of my paternal great grandfathers was very active in a Jewish organization and I found lots of info from that. So there are several important organizations: The Chevra Kidusha. This is the group who helps with death and burial. It is an important job. Also in the early days there were free loan societies. Because your great grandfather was a business owner it is possible that he made donations to help others. Free loans to new business owners.

            1. Oh, good to know! I was thinking I might be able to pick up a pattern of friends based on attendance through donation records or something like that…? But again, I haven’t ever laid eyes on synagogue records, so I’m just being optimistic based on my experience with other religious records. 😉

    1. Oh good!! I wish you good luck. I have a list somewhere of Jewish organizations I was directed to check with. Most are Seattle based. I’ll go see if I can find that list and give you a few suggestions I was given. I struck out, but maybe you will do better. 🙂

        1. Here are the places I was referred to:

          The Washington State Jewish Historical Society was very kind and helpful. I spoke with someone on the phone who searched their catalog for me and couldn’t find any Costellos. The number I wrote down was 206-774-2277.

          Good luck! I hope one of them will have some information about your great-grandfather.

  2. Great work, Amberly! As for synagogue records, they generally aren’t like church records with registers of births, marriages, and deaths, though modern synagogues might have records based on calendars, etc. But if he was a member of a synagogue, he might have made donations on holidays. How many synagogues were there in Spokane in 1917? I wouldn’t imagine many. I have found that synagogues are usually very interested in helping with family history searches.

    As for his name, I am wondering whether he chose John and Costello to hide his Jewish identity for his business. I have one ancestor who took the name John in America, and his name in Germany had been either Joshua or Jonah (records conflict, of course). John is not usually a Jewish name (though it was my father’s name since he was named for that same ancestor). Maybe it was Jonathan.

    I tried to find the meaning of Costello in Spanish to see if there was a Hebrew equivalent, and I was surprised to see that it is usually an Irish surname, sometimes Italian, less often Spanish, which makes me think perhaps he did adopt it in America. Apparently in Gaelic it means “deer.” The Hebrew/Yiddish equivalent is Tsvi (Hebrew) or Hirsch (Yiddish). But would John have known Costello meant deer? That seems a long shot.

      1. Oh, now that is interesting! He claimed his father was a Castillo and his family often say that his name was “Juan Castillo” before he came to America. I’ve been told that Castillo and Costello aren’t even kind of the same name by a few researchers in Spain so haven’t ever known exactly what to make of it.

        Most of my DNA matches on this branch are descendants of Eastern European Jews but my Mom’s ethnicity estimate from MyHeritage has a handful of percentages that indicate there is some Sephardic in there as well. I just pulled it up. It’s changed a bit. It now says 26.7% Ashkenazi, 5% North Africa. I met Schelly Talalay Dardashti at RootsTech and she was talking to me about how the DNA tests don’t represent Sephardic ancestry very well. She said they often show as areas all around the Mediterranean. What if there is some truth is Grandpa Costello’s stories. What if his father really was born in Italy and had the surname of Castillo…?

        Saving the link, thank you, Amy!!

        1. So the North African could possible be the Sephardic Jewish descent. But many mixed over the years where Ashkenazi and Sephardic come together. And to your comment belong. He probably joined the congregation closest to his home. Traditionally people WALK to shul on Saturdays. And in those days most people were more religious in their practice.

          1. That is what I had heard (about the walking) and was basing my guess on which synagogue he likely attended on that factor.

            I can’t identify his “pull factor”, the reason he settled in Spokane. It can’t have been random…

            I’m actually starting to wonder how/why he was buried in a Catholic Cemetery? If he attended synagogue in his daughter’s lifetime (and late enough in her life that she remembers it now – she is 92), that doesn’t fit well with the idea that he was “always” Catholic. His son, Uncle Dan, married Aunt Barbara who is very Catholic. Dan was actively involved in the Catholic Church for his adult life. I wonder if John’s burial is linked to that? No one else was religious. John’s wife was baptized Catholic after John’s death so that they could be buried next to each other. I wonder if he was EVER baptized Catholic. I should check that! I’m guessing that Holy Cross Cemetery wouldn’t be too pleased if they found out he was never baptized.

            1. I can’t imagine him going to synagogue if he was baptized. But you never know. He seems to have been quite the rogue in some ways.

              1. Haha, yes! The feeling in my gut is that the Catholic thing happened after WWII. That is also the time he quit working and became very careful. He would never leave his back exposed, always sat in the corner of the room, stayed close to home, etc. I wonder if he thought it would be safer for him (and by extension his children) if he just went to Mass with Aunt Barbara and pretended to be a Catholic Spaniard…?

                1. World war 2 impacted many families. I wonder if his family or some of his family was murdered in the Holocaust?

                2. Oh! I hadn’t considered that. I figured it was more related to the changes in his family dynamic and location, but you just might be onto something with that thought. Thank you, Ellen.

    1. Thank you for the info on synagogue records, Amy! There were three synagogues in Spokane in 1917. He lived very close to one prior to his marriage and for the first few years of his marriage. One of my next steps is to map all of his addresses more thoroughly and compare that to the three synagogues.

      I’ve wondered the very same thing about his name – chosen to help hide. Hmmm… very interesting about Costello meaning deer in Gaelic, even better question about him knowing that. I wonder if he even knew it was most commonly an Irish name?

      Thank you for helping me think through things. I really appreciate it. ❤️

  3. Woohoo!!! This is wonderful Amberly. I’m so pleased you have this new info and a bunch of new (and revisited) research directions. And I’m really lad you are sharing this process. I’m learning a lot!!!

    1. Thank you, Su!!! I love the sense of direction I have been feeling lately. Lots of avenues to explore. Lots more has happened in the last week. I need to write about it ASAP. 😉

  4. Hi Amberly! This series of posts is so interesting! Have you tried looking up John’s address from that new 1918 city directory? If you’re searching on Ancestry, you could type the address into the “Keyword” search bar and see if any other names are listed as living at the same address. I’ve tried this type of search before, and it can yield fascinating results. I’ve often found friends and relatives that can be helpful in my research! Also, you could look up the address in Spokane newspapers of the era and try to find info on him that way. Good luck! 🙂

    1. Hi Anna! Thank you for the great suggestion! I hadn’t done that. All I found so far is the landlady and previous residents from earlier city directories. Now, I’ll have to check out his address from the WWI draft registration and his marriage record to see what I can get. I’m so glad you suggested it! ❤️

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