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