Friday, February 6, 2015

Wanted: Greek Research Guidance

Irish United Nations Veterans Association house and
 memorial garden (Arbour Hill), 
William Murphy, 2011, Creative Commons,
This is the story of how one resource can open the door to many research tools. It all started because of my Greek ancestors. My husband and I will be headed to Athens in the fall of 2015 for our next family history trip.

Athens. Panorama from Acropolis towards
 northeast and Mount Lycabettus,
2011, Wikimedia.
After traveling to the Czech Republic and Switzerland in 2013, I have some experience in getting prepared to make the most of my time in Europe. In my blog post of Oct 30, 2013, I discussed how I found my wonderful Czech heritage guide, Marie Zahn. The unforgettable trip with Marie to my grandfather’s ancestral village coupled with the genealogical information that she located before we arrived resulted in a very successful visit. This experience lead me to look for a guide in Greece.
But this quest proved much harder than I thought. I explored the subject of heritage guides in Greece in different google searches (trying to use just the right combination of words,) but nothing solid turned up. I e-mailed Rick Steves’ travel advisory site staffers, (a great site for travel information) but they had no leads either. 

Used by permission of publisher
On one of my google searches, I put “Greek genealogy resources” and a listing for a “Greek Family Research Toolkit” from Family Tree Magazine popped up. A copy of this issue is available at Family Tree Magazine's online store.

As I looked down the list of web sites in the tool kit, I saw this intriguing entry: Hellenic Genealogy Resources Facebook Group.

Facebook logo, 2013,
 Facebook, Inc., Wikimedia.

Now I had already searched Facebook groups under “Greek,” but I had not thought to look under “Hellenic.” The link in the Family Tree list (from 2012) was no longer active but now I had the name. I excitedly opened Facebook and entered the name I hoped to fine.

And there it was – the Hellenic Genealogy Resources Group!  (You must be in Facebook to see the group.) I saw that it was a closed group, so I clicked on “join” and the next time I checked, I saw a  welcome message from the administrator of the group, Dawna Stevens.

Listen, Ky, 2008, Creative Commons,
Having found the group, I could hardly wait to make contact.  In my “hello and thank you for letting me join message,” I asked if anyone knew of a Greek heritage guide. By the next day, Dawna Stevens had given me two possible candidates. This kind of treatment, of being heard, is something so wonderful to encounter when you are searching for information.
 I will write another post as I explore a research partnership with these new Greek contacts.

Another Facebook group I found in the Family Tree Magazine “Greek Family Research Toolkit” is Hellenic Genealogy Geek. I was intrigued by the term “Geek” – these must be very determined, focused researchers. Only a few weeks after joining this group, I received an e-mail announcing the “First NationalHellenic American Genealogy Conference” to be held in New York on Saturday April 25, 2015. This isn’t the first time that I have wished to live closer to New York City! The conference is co-sponsored by the Hellenic American Chamber ofCommerce and The conference syllabus promises an exciting, information-packed day. Not only are there some intriguing presentations, but the conference is free!

The conference opens with Peter C. Moskos speaking on “Greek Americans: Struggle and Success” which is the title of a book by the same title he co-authored with Charles C. Moskos.

A presentation by Dr. Louis Katsos, titled the “History of Hellenic Lands,” focuses on how research in Greek records is impacted by “geography, boundary changes and village name changes.” Herein lie the sand traps that befuddle many a genealogist!

Bunker, Michael Coghlan, 2009,
Creative Commons,

In the afternoon, Peter W. Dickson, a contributor to Greek Americans, will be speaking on “Using DNA in Greek Family History Research.” How DNA can help in family history research is one of my favorite topics!

I found another lead in the Greek Family Research Toolkit -- a link to Lica Catsakis’ website, Greek Genealogy - FamilyHistory, How to find Your Greek Ancestors. Dr. Catsakis is the author of Family History Research in Greece. This is a description of the book that appears on her website:

“Eleven Chapters: Beginning your Research, Sources for Genealogical Research, Greek History, More about Greece, Greek Migration, Locating Places in Greece (with details about various gazetteers – geographical dictionaries), Churches and Religious Denominations (with addresses of dioceses, and Patriarchate), Research by Mail (with form letters for civil and church archives in Greek and their English translation, and Family questionnaire for relatives to fill in information about common ancestors), Learn about Names, The Language (with basics about grammar and a list of words you will see in Greek records), Numbers and Units of Time. 
Two Appendices: Glossary (of Greek and English words); and Greek Given Names their Variations, their English Equivalents, and Name-days.
Pictures of ancestors and of the land, Maps, and photocopies of samples of Greek Records andCertificates.”

Isn’t it amazing how one resource, in this case Family History Magazine’s "Greek Family Research Toolkit," can lead one to discover all this:

  • Two Facebook groups on Greek Genealogy Research
  • Referrals to Greek Heritage guides
  • The Hellenic America Chamber of Commerce
  • The First National Hellenic American Genealogy Conference
  • A manual on how to do Greek Family Research by L. Catsakis
categories: genealogy tools, genealogy professional, genealogy groups

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Poor in Early America

As my readers know, I am interested in the lives of my Irish ancestors who came to Chicago, IL in the mid-nineteenth century. Because they were part of the new urban poor (a group made up of rural people from America and abroad who came to the cities seeking jobs),

From the old to the new world - German emigrants for New York
 embarking on a Hamburg steamer, 1874,
 LC-USZ62-100310, Library of Congress Online Catalog.

I began researching what life was like for those who lived on the margins without secure employment. In my post of November 12, 2014, I wrote about some of the challenges the poor faced in nineteenth century Chicago. This led me to wonder more about the causes of poverty in America and how this society responded to the needs of those without the means to take care of themselves.

Walter I. Trattner, From poor law to welfare state: 
a history of social welfare in America 
 (New York, N.Y. : The Free 
Press, Simon and Schuster, 1999)

I used two books to anchor my exploration into this topic. First, I went to Walter I. Trattner’s book From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America  first published in 1974 and now in its sixth edition. Trattner begins his coverage of the response to poverty by society with colonial America and goes up to President Bill Clinton’s overhaul of the welfare system. In addition to his comprehensive information on the causes and responses to poverty in America, Dr. Trattner also provides an in-depth bibliography after each chapter.

Pauperization: cause and cure, 
Sir Baldwyn
 Leighton, 1871, Internet 

Archive, Wikimedia.
If you research early America, you realize right away that ties to the mother country of England were seen in many areas, including theories on poverty. Debate on this topic flourished in both countries in parlors, newspapers and governing bodies.

We learn from Dr. Trattner that the social system for helping the poor in colonial America was based on the English Poor Law of 1601. (p. 10-12, 16, Trattner.) This law, in  England and similar ones in America in the mid-1600s, allowed towns to levy a tax on householders that was used to provide some relief to the impoverished. Churches also contributed to helping the poor in their parishes. If you were poor in eighteenth century America, you fared better than those who followed you in the next century:

“…the problem of poverty had been defined and the lines of attack against it were marked out. In many areas, selectmen, county justices, overseers of the poor, constables, church wardens, or whoever the authority happened to be, made regular surveys of their areas to determine the condition of the population and to call attention to those who needed assistance….By and large, the poor—at least the white poor—were dealt with humanely and often wisely…especially when compared to later developments.” (p. 27, Trattner.)

Catherine Reef,
Poverty in America (Facts on File,
Infobase Publishing, 2007)

The second book Poverty in America by Catherine Reef is a great reference. It is a textbook, but don’t let that put you off. Not only is the text accessible, it is engrossing, and the book has two very helpful tools at the end of each chapter. First, there is a timeline or “Chronicle of Events” for the period covered in the chapter which lists major happenings and trends, including laws enacted, epidemics, population figures, employment data and different public and private responses to poverty.

Here is an excerpt from the “Chronicle of Events” at the end of Chapter Two “Industrialization, Immigration, and Urban Poverty 1790-1864:”

An epidemic of yellow fever devastates Philadelphia; the city provides emergency relief to 1,200 households each week.
The population of New York City is 60,515.
Approximately 60,000 people live in the Philadelphia area.
The population of New York City reaches 96,373.
War with England reduces foreign trade; domestic manufacturing expands.
The resumption of peace results in an influx of imported goods and domestic wage cuts and layoffs.
New York State spends $245,000 on poor relief.
The United States enters an economic depression known as the Panic of 1819; 500,000 workers are unemployed.” (p. 31-32 Reef.)

If you look carefully at the timeline above, you will notice that external events like epidemics, wars, and trade imbalances have a great effect on the economic well-being of people.
WITNESS logo originally designed
 in 1996, Chiat\Day,

The second end-of-chapter tool is the “Eyewitness Testimony.” This section is composed of quotations from public officials, reporters and editors of newspapers, ministers, staff of almshouses/poorhouses, and people who worked directly with the poor. I found this section particularly moving and sometimes alarming. It is in this testimony that you see two very different philosophies of what causes poverty and how to deal with it. Before taking a look at some of this personal testimony, let’s look at the genesis of these philosophies.

One attitude toward the poor has its roots 2,000 years B.C., became embedded in the sacred texts of the major religions of the world, and continues to a large extent today. (p. 1-2 Trattner) This attitude is that the poor are in their unfortunate position as a result of outside events (such as poor health, unemployment, disability etc.) and deserve to be helped by those with more means in the form of government aid. 

But this charitable philosophy, which flourished in America from colonial times through the mid-eighteenth century, was to have a competing belief that was born from many factors, including: the continuing flow of impoverished immigrants, concentration of the poor in cities which drained public resources, and the feeling on the part of many who had “made it” that only those who were lazy and didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities America offered fell into poverty. (p. 53, Trattner.)

Yard of tenement, New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co. , 
between 1900 and 1910, LC-DIG-det-4a18585, 
Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Now, let’s look at some personal testimonials from Reef’s book that illustrate the opposing philosophies of poverty. These are from “Eyewitness Testimony” at the end of Chapter Two “Industrialization, Immigration, and Urban Poverty 1790-1864:”

This witness, Rev.Ward Stafford, although a man of the cloth, believed that since the poor bore much responsibility for their circumstances:

 “…many charitable institutions, or institutions for affording pecuniary or other equivalent aid to the indigent, exert, on the whole, an unhappy influence on society. Is it not true, that, by these institutions…provision is in fact made for idleness and other vices? If people believe, that they shall be relieved when in distress, they will not generally make exertions, will not labour when they are able and have the opportunity.” Ward Stafford, missionary to the poor of New York City, March 1817, New Missionary Field, p. 43.  (p. 35 Reef.)

For the other side of the debate on the poor, we have this testimony from yet another minister:

“[T]he paupers and the beggars do not constitute the sum total of the POOR. Would to God they did. The great mass of the poor are those who are struggling by toil, privation, and even in destitution, to get bread and clothing for themselves and children, and a place to shelter them from the cold and the storm, without begging, or calling upon the public authorities for aid.” G.W. Quinby, Universalist minister in Yarmouth, Maine, 1856, The Gallows, the Prison, and the Poor-Houses, p. 295. (p. 45 Reef.)

Lights and Shadows of New York life: 
A Woman’s Story of Gospel,
Temperance, Mission and Rescue Work,  

by Helen Campbell, Thomas W. Knox and 
Thomas Byrnes, Hartford,
 Conn: A.D. Worthington
 & Co., 1893,

3:FHCL:614256 p. 275

Later in his testimony, Rev. Quinby describes the horrid conditions that the poor lived under in major American cities in the nineteenth century:

“…I see them living—suffering in garrets and cellars—and pent-up rooms—with no ventilation; damp, filthy, destructive to health and happiness. I see the widow and the orphan—and the honest poor man, with a large family—weak and sickly himself from long and constant toil to furnish bread and clothing for his dear ones.” (p. 45 Reef.)

Lights and Shadows of New York life: A Woman’s Story of Gospel, 
Temperance, Mission and Rescue Work, 
by Helen Campbell, Thomas W. Knox and 
Thomas Byrnes, Hartford, Conn: A.D. 
Worthington & Co., 1893, p. 264 

These two opposing viewpoints towards the poor that we have seen in those who worked directly with them can also be seen in society at large during the early years of America. During the time that most people lived in small villages, worked on farms and didn’t travel far, poverty was manageable: the poor were your relatives or neighbors. Of course, you helped them. But as the nineteenth century dawned, the Industrial Revolution changed poverty. Cities were beacons to the rural poor from America and abroad with their factories that promised jobs. But these jobs were tied to economic conditions that ebbed and flowed.  

Gradually through the nineteenth century, the urban poor filled crowded tenements which became cesspools of disease. The larger society began taking notice of these wretched conditions when it became apparent that disease cannot be relegated to the poor. In “Eyewitness Testimony” at the end of Chapter Two “Industrialization, Immigration, and Urban Poverty 1790-1864,” we hear from Marcus T. Reynolds, an architect, who warned against ignoring the suffering of the poor in The Housing of the poor in American Cities (1892) pp. 34-35:  

“Of all the evils which are due to the tenement-house system, the one that concerns the public most directly is the danger…from the presence in the tenement district of contagious and infectious diseases….The working people, who spend the night in such dirty and disease-breeding places, disperse in the morning, and by the nature of their occupations, find their way to all portions of the city, and are thrown in contact with all classes of society.” (p. 99-100 Reef.)

The tenement - a menace to all, Udo J. Keppler, N.Y., 
 J. Ottmann Lith. Co., Puck Bldg., 
1901 March 20, LC-DIG-ppmsca-25509,  
Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Dr. Trattner also notes that a motive of nineteenth century charity was the need to protect the social order. He quotes a member of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, formed in 1843, who suggested that if society does not help the poor:

(they will) “over-run the city as thieves and beggars and endanger the security of property and life.” (records of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, formed in 1843, p. 69, Trattner.)

From the depths, William Balfour Ker, c1906, LC-USZ62-45985, Library of Congress Online Catalog.

We have thus seen the operation of two different attitudes toward poverty in America from the 1600s through the 1800s. The Industrial Revolution changed the onus of social welfare from a village matter to a large urban concern. Public assistance to the poor mirrored the feeling of society at large.

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