Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Are There: Chicago 1837-1920

Yesterday's Main Street, Kathy,
January 2, 2025, Creative Commons,
When I was a young child living in Chicago in the early 1950s, my parents brought me to the Museum of Science and Industry. I remember several visits, and each time I would gaze fixedly at one exhibit in particular: “Yesterday’s Main Street,”a representation of a cobblestoned Chicago street in 1910, with storefronts lining both sides.

Yesterday's Main Street, Dainaar,
April 2, 2010, Creative Commons,
 For some reason, I never got the chance to walk down the street and peer into the windows as I longed to do. Perhaps this was the beginning of my yearning to know what Chicago was like in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when my ancestors lived there.

When I began investigating my family background and found that the Irish Carney/Kearney family line lived in Chicago from 1860 on, I was even more passionate about learning about life in early Chicago. Following the Irish, my German, Greek and Czech ancestors came to make their home in this young city. I wanted to walk the streets my people walked, see the sights they saw every day, hear the sounds that might have soothed or tormented them, and even smell the scents that surrounded them.

Fortunately for me, I came across the book Challenging Chicago: Coping With Everyday Life, 1837-1920  by Perry Duis.

Used by permission of publisher, University
of Illinois Press

The author goes way beyond the surface of sights and sounds. He plunges the reader into the gritty but also glorious world that was Chicago in this time period.  From this book, I learned the risks and the obstacles that challenged my people, but I also learned about the opportunities.

Dr. Duis is a master at painting a picture with words of what it was like to live in Chicago in those early years. Although this is a scholarly work covering the history, social mores, technological advances, and much more of this period and place, it is as readable and engrossing as a historical novel. However be advised, I may be prejudiced as I love nineteenth century Chicago!

In the introduction, Duis tells his readers the purpose of this book: to explain the challenges of living in a new, fast growing city and how its denizens dealt with them:

“The millions of all social classes who flocked to American cities…needed to resort to survival strategies. Urban life was a new experience for most of them. Raised on farms and in small towns, both here and abroad, they were often unprepared for what lay ahead. Many found that cities were far more congested, crowded, dangerous, unpleasant, immoral, and unhealthy than they had anticipated.” p. xii Duis

First, Dr. Duis tells us what forces helped create Chicago and other cities. By the mid 1800s, the industrial revolution  was taking hold in the United States. Farm workers living in poverty in rural America and in Europe began seeking employment in the new factories that were springing up in cities like New York and Chicago and were hungry for workers. To give an idea of the astonishing rate of population growth in Chicago, Duis writes:

“A populace of 4,170 in 1837 became 29,963 in 1850 and 109,260 in 1860, and it was on its way to three times that figure by the time of the Great Fire in 1871.” p. 7 Duis

Here is a photograph of State Street c1893 which shows the congested conditions of Chicago living:

Traffic on State Street, Chicago, U.S.A., Washington, D.C. : 
J.F. Jarvis, publisher, c1893, LC-USZ62-101801, 
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
With such rapid growth, there wasn’t much time to pay attention to the environment – the land the people lived on and traversed. People, including the city fathers, were focused on business. But nature was not to be ignored.

From the time before the first Europeans came to the site of Chicago in the late 1600s, the area was plagued by mud much of the year. In their book Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis, Harold M. Mayer and Richard C. Wade explain the cause of that mud:

(It)  “…was the result of ancient geologic forces. More than four hundred million years before, the site lay beneath a tropical sea ….Before the waters receded there was deposited on the sea bottom the material (limestone) that constitutes the bedrock of Chicago….Above the limestone, glaciers left layers of impermeable clay that prevented the draining off of surface waters and created a high water table.” p. 3 Duis

  # 69 State Street, South from Lake,
 Views of Chicago, Carbutt, Photographer,
Chicago History Museum, used by license.

It was this high water table that caused the omnipresent mud which challenged Chicagoans when they were attempting to get from place to place on foot. The mud also caused problems for workers as they labored to keep streets open when they sunk into the mud.  p. 5 Duis
But the mud was not the only environmental problem facing Chicagoans. The city leaders thought the cost of pipes and sewers too costly for the new city, so sanitation became a problem. Large numbers of new immigrants living in overcrowded tenements with no waste removal systems led, among other problems, to very dirty streets:

In 1837, the city declared that “No dung, dead animal or putrid meats and fish or decayed vegetables (were) to be deposited in any street, avenue, lane or public square.” p. 5 Duis

Just walking in the city was a nightmare:

“The lack of sidewalks forced pedestrians to walk on the sides of the road, where debris, garbage, stray animals, mud, standing water, and dust impeded daily travel.” p. 5 Duis

Ore docks, blast furnaces & steel mills, South Chicago, Ill.,
International Harvester Co., Chicago, Ill.,
Geo. R. Lawrence Co. , copyright claimant,
 c1907, C-USZ62-41402,  Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
So thanks to Dr. Duis, I have a good picture of what it was like for my ancestors to try to get to work each day through the mud and trash. I know also where they likely found employment: the new iron and steel mills, the stockyards and meat packing plants, the railroads, and garment making shops. But how did people find these and other jobs?

Birds-eye view of Union Stock yards, Chicago, Ill., U.S.A., 
Meadville, Pa.: Keystone View Company, c1897, 
LC-USZ62-45849, Library of Congress 
Prints and Photographs Division 
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Chapter 9, “Chicago is Work,” talks about the different ways jobs were advertised: employment agencies, saloon message boards, hiring halls, and word of mouth. In addition to a way of making a living, a Chicagoan had to have a place to go before and after work. Finding housing was yet another challenge.

A basic facet of life is shelter, and I have long wondered the kind of housing my Chicago ancestors had. Different pieces of evidence (including the sad finding that an infant of the Carney/Kearney family was buried in the pauper’s area of Calvary Cemetery, the fact that my people likely left Ireland in the famine years, and the family story that my great grandmother was in an orphanage) attest to the probability that the Carney/Kearney and Duffy families were poor. Perhaps part of the reason I have trouble locating them in the city directories and federal census records is because of their poverty. Duis tells us that many Chicago families moved every May 1st, but poor families moved even more often, sometimes to avoid back rent they couldn’t afford to pay or in the hope of securing cleaner, less crowded lodgings:

“For the very poor, eviction or the search for more sanitary and safe tenements often led to the transfer of their meager possessions every few months. Their stay in one place was often so brief that they used neighborhood saloons as permanent mailing addresses.” p. 85 Duis

Too bad the saloons didn’t keep ledgers filled with addresses of the neighborhood denizens!

Another challenge for Chicago’s workers was finding food. Due to crowds, increasing commuting distance from work, and unreliable public transportation, working people couldn’t get home for lunch.  Saloon owners saw a way to capitalize on their roles as post box and job message board. Why not serve lunch to bring in customers to eat and, of course, drink? Initially, saloons charged for these noon meals, but when a politician/saloon owner started handing out free oysters (p. 157- 158 Duis), the concept if free food to lure customers spread across the city. Thus, was born, as Dr. Duis tells us, a new concept – the free lunch.

Image from page 208 of “Blasts” from “The Ram's Horn” (1902), 
Chicago, The Ram's Horn Co., Internet Archive 
Book Images,
But that wasn’t the only thing Chicago gave America in the area of eating. When I was a little girl, my mother took me downtown to a cafeteria. I was mesmerized by all the food choices! This experience inspired the essay below from me in the third grade:

Written by Pat Spears, 1953
 school assignment, John M. Palmer
Elementary School, Chicago, IL
But I had no idea then that my city invented this restaurant phenomenon. In order to reduce the cost of lunch for working women, the Ogontz Club came up with the idea to do away with wait staff and instead, let patrons choose their food from large tables and carry their plates back to the seating area. p. 159

Thus was born our modern day cafeteria. A fellow blogger, Ms. Jan Whitaker, wrote a wonderful poem, “The Cafeteria,” which perfectly captures my fascination with this form of dining.

To conclude, we have taken just a quick visit to the wonderful world of nineteenth century Chicago, courtesy of Perry Duis. But there is more to explore in his historical tour guide, including how early Chicagoans sought to escape the problems of life and spend some moments enjoying what the city had to offer, covered in Part Four: Spare Moments.

One last note, in a press release of the book by the University of Illinois Press, James L. Swanson from a Chicago Tribune review was quoted: “…the illustrations and endnotes are worth the price of the book.” And the notes are indeed a treasure.

categories: genealogy tools

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Academic Journals: A Powerhouse of Research

Most genealogy researchers are very familiar with the journals of genealogy societies: local, regional and national. An example of a local society journal is the ChicagoGenealogist, a publication of the Chicago Genealogical Society. The Western New York Genealogical SocietyJournal, published by said society , covers eight counties. A national organization, such as the NationalGenealogical Society, will have a national journal -- the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Many genealogical journals, including the ones above, are classified as academic or scholarly journals. When a writer submits an article to an academic journal, he or she can expect to have the piece peer-reviewed. Because of the rigorous standards that writers in academic journals must adhere to, the quality of the research is very high.

Hartwell Hall, east side, DanielPenfield,
 31 May 2010, Wikimedia.

Peer-reviewed journals follow some established patterns.The Department of Sociology at the College of Brockport posted an article, Reading Journal Articles, on the college website, which outlines the framework that makes up a report of research in an academic journal. The parts of this framework look very similar to the parts of a good research plan; the basic elements of research are all here:

First, the scholarly article begins with an Abstract or summary of the research question: What is the reason for this study? What are the topics/questions being investigated?

Second, comes the Introduction:“What is already known about this topic and what is left to discover?” 

Third, is the Literature Review: “The review of literature is meant to discuss previous work on the topic, point out what questions remain, and relate the research presented in the rest of the article to the existing literature.” 

The fourth part of a journal article is the Methods and Data: What did the author find and how did he/she find it? 

The fifth section is Analysis and Results: What analytic techniques does the author use to tease out information from the data? How does the author interpret the findings?  

The final step in the reporting on research is the Discussion and Conclusion:  How do the findings connect with other data? What other questions can be asked based on the new information? Has this research added any new knowledge to this topic that would be valuable to others?

Many genealogical societies publish scholarly journals that contain information very helpful to family researchers. But academic journals in a variety of disciplines often contain articles of great interest to genealogists.

in the stacks, Anna Creech, April 14, 2005, 
Creative Commons,

Where might one look to find these publications? Scholarly journals have long resided in college and other libraries. But in this age of the internet, digital copies are now available for many journals.

Used by permission JSTOR
According to Wikipedia, in 1995 Princeton University led an effort to digitize ten journals at seven libraries in order to save storage space. The project was called JSTOR, “pronounced JAY-stor; short for Journal Storage.” Today JSTOR offers “more than 1900 journal titles” from over 900 publishers. 

To get an idea of the breadth of the journal offerings at JSTOR:
Go to the webpage and follow these steps:

In the upper right of the screen (next to JSTOR logo), click “About.”
On the menu bar at the top of the screen, hold the mouse on “For Publishers” to access a drop-down menu.
Click on “JSTOR Publishers & Content Providers.”

This gives you an A-Z list of the more than 900 content providers whose journals are in the database. You can also find journals arranged by content area: Browse by Subject.

I did a quick search and found these intriguing organizations sure to get a genealogist’s interest up:

Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society
Economic History Society
Georgia Historical Society
Presbyterian Historical Society

University of Arizona Vertical Logo,,
19 September 2014, Wikimedia.
Now that we know about JSTOR and its treasures, how can we access the journals? For faculty, staff and students of one of the 8,400 institutions that belong to JSTOR world-wide (including many colleges and universities, museums and public libraries), unlimited access is free. If you are an alumna or alumnus of one of these participating universities, you may also have free access. I was greatly pleased to see my alma mater, the University of Arizona, on the list!

How about for un-affiliated individuals? JSTOR has two ways you can gain access: JPASS (costs and has some limits) and Register and Read  (free but has limits.) JSTOR is also offering free access (some limits) to journals “published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere” through a program called Early Journal Content

Well, now that we know how to access journals at JSTOR and what kinds of journals we can expect to find, let’s look at the results of a search. One of my family lines is Irish, and they lived in Chicago from the 1850s. I want to learn as much about the lives of these people in the mid to late nineteenth century as I can. In JSTOR, I did a search on “Irish Chicago” and got over 2500 hits.

 But on page 5, I found this listing:

It is important to remember that although this article was not written for genealogists, it has great significance for anyone interested in American history:  life in large cities in the nineteenth century with an emphasis on the lives of immigrants. 

The ghetto, Chicago, Ill., Bird's-eye view of street scene, c1920, 
LC-USZ62-80739, Library of Congress Prints and
 Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Dr. Galenson conducted this study to shed more light on a question that has challenged experts in academia, government, and non-profits: does growing up in poverty in urban ghettos decrease children’s chances of becoming employable, responsible, engaged citizens? As he states in the introduction to the study:

“In recent years social scientists have become increasingly interested in the question of how members of ethnic and racial minorities are injured economically by living in segregated neighborhoods. A central concern has been that the poverty of these neighborhoods may be self-perpetuating.”  p. 261.

As Dr. Galenson noted, this concern with the adverse effects of poverty on immigrant children is not new:

“It was often expressed in the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the problem of immigrant children who failed to attend school.” p. 261-262.

The purpose of this study was to “investigate the concern of (George Emerson, prominent Boston educator) and others in the nineteenth century that the children of immigrants who lived in ethnic ghettos were less likely to attend school than their peers who lived elsewhere.” p. 262.

1860 Census Questionnaire,
1860 Image Gallery,
US Census Bureau website.

Of great interest to genealogical researchers is the source Dr. Galenson used for his study: the 1860 Federal Census for Boston, MA and Chicago, IL. He looked at each of the wards in both Boston and Chicago and compared them by wealth and ethnicity – with a focus on Irish heads of household.

Many of us have perused census documents, but it is unlikely that we have done anything like what Dr. Galenson did with the data.  Among the information the 1860 Census asked for were the ages of the children living in the household and if they had attended school at any time during the last year, what ethnicity the people in the household were and if the family income was over or under $1,000 for the period.

Correlating this data for the different wards in Boston and Chicago allowed Dr. Galenson to see the effects of the wealth of a household, and if the household were Irish, on the chances of the children attending school. And what he discovered was startling:

“…in Boston the probability of school attendance was positively related to a ward’s wealth and negatively related to its proportion of Irish residents, but in Chicago the reverse was true.”  p. 270-271.

In other words, if you were a poor, Irish male child in Chicago in 1860, you had a better chance of attending school than a child of similar wealth and ethnicity in Boston.

The rest of Galenson’s study attempted to explain why this difference existed. He found that there was no Catholic School System in Boston, so the public schools in Boston were pretty much the only game in town – “…more than 85 percent of all children who attended school in Boston in 1855 and 1860 went to public schools.”  p. 271 In other words, the public schools had a monopoly on the market. Unless you were wealthy, your children had only one choice – the public school.

In Chicago, on the other hand, the public schools had competition from the Catholic Church. In fact, in 1860 nearly 36% of Chicago children attended private school (mainly Catholic.)  p. 275

Why would it make such a difference on school attendance if a child had the choice to attend a public or a Catholic school? Galenson found the answer in a condition that differed in each city. Boston had a public system that went back to 1635 while Chicago’s “…basis for a city school system was first established by an act of the Illinois legislature in 1837….” p. 283. Along with the much longer history of its public education system, Boston had more nativist sentiment among the administrators who ran the schools and the teachers who interacted with the students.
American citizens! We appeal to you in all calmness. Is it not time to pause? . . . 
A paper entitled the American patriot, Boston : Published by
 J.E. Farwell & Co., 1852, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07575,
 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
 Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Chicago was different:

“In contrast to Boston, Chicago’s early public school system may have also had a different attitude toward immigrants. Chicago’s population was very heterogeneous from its earliest days, as the foreign-born made up 30 percent of its population in 1843 and more than 50 percent in 1850.”  p. 284. 

So what conclusion did Dr. Galenson make as to why Irish boys in 1860 Chicago attended school in greater numbers than their cohorts in Boston?

Irish children in 1860 Chicago had the choice of attending a Catholic School where their ethnicity, social class and religion were respected. On the other hand,  Irish school-age boys in 1860 Boston had only one choice of school -- the public school, where they encountered discrimination due to their poverty, their Irishness, and their Catholicism.   

I learned an incredible amount of history from this academic study – history, economic, sociology, education, immigration – all covered in this article whose author was comparing school attendance of Irish immigrant sons in 1860 Boston and Chicago. And only in JSTOR did I find this resource.

Categories: genealogy tools

Monday, August 11, 2014

Escape to Kentucky in the 1940s

If you aren’t yet familiar with the novel, A Far Piece to Canaan, by Sam Halpern, you’re in for an unforgettable reading experience.

Used by permission of
Harper Collins and author
 This book, although a novel, reads like a memoir. The first-person narrative keeps you riveted to the page.

You can read Canaan on many levels. First, there is the pure joy of being immersed in rural Kentucky of the 1940s. For anyone with an interest in family history, this is a visit to a by-gone time and place that you won’t want to miss.

When you read Canaan, you get a glimpse of daily life seventy years ago in a small farming community where everyone (except the few landlords) is trying to eke out a living by sharecropping. Although extreme poverty hangs over the community, this seems to help bring people together. We watch neighbors come together at revival meetings, during plantings and harvests when someone is injured or falls sick, and when their stock
Sheep grazing on farm of Russell Spears near Lexington, Kentucky, 
[1940 Sept.?], LC-USF33-031128-M1, 
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 
Washington, DC 20540 USA
 is threatened by an unknown peril.

The main character is Samuel Zelinsky, who at the outset is the twelve-year old son of a Jewish couple, Morris and Liz Zelinsky. Morris is a sharecropper, and the novel begins when the family moves to an area “fifteen miles south of Lexington, Kentucky” to begin three years of cropping on Mr. Berman’s farm. You can read Canaan as a “coming of age” story. Halpern weaves an interlocking tale of a group of young boys who have fun doing things that kids today often miss out on as they build friendships. But the group also finds out that life can put you into situations where you are torn between loyalty and doing what’s right.

Halpern appeals to all of our senses as he paints a picture of Kentucky:

“March and early April crept by in their wet, cool, blustery, miserable way, and real spring come on with its bee-buzzing sounds and warm-wind feeling. 

ForestWander Nature Photography, Wikimedia.
The brown hills turned dark green and the apple trees busted out in pink-white. The creek in the hollow below the tobacco barn
Field of Burley tobacco on farm of Russell Spears, 
drying and curing barn
 in the background, vicinity of Lexington, Ky., 
 photographer, 1940 Sept.,  
LC-DIG-fsac-1a34368, Library of Congress
 Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540
 settled back inside its banks and it was a great feeling to belly down beside it and listen to its sounds and let the sun beat down on my back and smell the grass and warm, black, soft, moist ground.” p. 21

Canaan is also a testament to the American Dream of owning your own piece of land. Genealogists who study early America from the mid-1600s through the early 1900s are familiar with the hunger for land that resulted in people spreading across this continent. I believe this “land rush” lasted longer and had more effect on the making of America than almost any other phenomenon.

By the time Samuel Zelinsky’s family came to Kentucky, the time of land patents, homestead acts, land rushes and military bounty land warrants was long gone. You had to have resources to buy land in the 1940s and after the Great Depression of the past decade, many people had very few. 

Canaan gives us a chance to see the scourges of this poverty up-front as the families in this story are all barely making it from season to season. They often see their profits eaten up by what the landlord claims and by what bad weather does to their crops. But what keeps them going is the hope that sometime in the future, with lots of hard work and luck, they might be able to save some dollars for a down payment on their own few acres.

Willie Nall, 11 years old; Raymond Jones, 10 years old; Denver Jones, 
5 years old; plowing on farm, …Elizabethtown vicinity,
 Kentucky; Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer; 
1916 May 5, LC-DIG-nclc-00399, Library of Congress Prints
 and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA

For those genealogists who wonder, and I think that includes all of us, how childhood circumstances affected our ancestors in their adult lives, Canaan lets us look over Samuel Zelinsky’s shoulder as he interacts with his peers on neighboring farms. We learn about the values that Samuel internalizes from his day-to-day socialization, some from his parents but mostly from the boys who become his friends. And Canaan’s author gives us the opportunity to see how this early part of Samuel’s life plays a part in his efforts in later life to fit in in college and the workplace.

The book also touches on the themes of immigration and religious persecution. The Zelinsky family is Jewish, and Morris was sent to America from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s to escape pogroms. But he found that even in America, the land of immigrants from so many cultures and religions, anti-semitism was present. When his mother worries about Samuel’s friends, Morris assures her that the boys are good for Samuel:

“…there’s nothing wrong with those boys. They’re good kids and they treat him like one of their own. They don’t hold it against him that he’s a Jew. They don’t look up to him or down at him, just across, and that’s what I want for Samuel.” p. 34

As you watch the adventures that Samuel and his friends have and how they treat each other, you can judge whether or not Morris was right.

You can read Canaan on many different levels: a sociological study of mid-twentieth century rural America, a psychological profile of a man whose relationship challenges in adulthood have their roots in his childhood, a rip-roaring saga of the everyday doings of young boys in the days when after the work was done, you could get lost all day in the woods and never see an adult.

document types