Family History Research

Book Review – Women Adrift

I was looking through my bookcase this morning and came across a book I read in a Chicago Women’s History grad school called Women Adrift, Independent Wage Earners in Chicago, 1880-1930 by Joanne J. Meyerowitz. I thought this would be a great book to mention this week since I wrote an article about women and naturalization.

I do not have any women in my family who went off on their own to become “women adrift” but this book was very interesting to read. The chapters walk the reader through what some of the women experienced. Chapter 1 discusses being apart from the family. Chapter 2 is about exercising caution in the big city. Chapter 3 mentions orphans and innocents while Chapter 4 discusses Surrogate Families. Chapter 5 goes in depth about the people who helped these women and Chapter 6 talks about the women being Urban Pioneers.

Meyerowitz addresses issues such as sexuality of this “new breed” of women coming to the cities; what social circles formed and why; the vices that existed in the cities and how the women handled them or fell prey to them; and contains many tables with statistics, several illustrations, and lengthy note and bibliography sections.

Whether you had a Woman Adrift in your family or not, this book is well worth your time to read. You might just see some similarities between these women and second or third generation women of immigrants in your families who branched out on their own after the 1930’s.

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Your House Has a History

I recently wrote an article about tracing family through street addresses and am now interested in finding the history of some of those houses. While the PDF file mentioned here, Your House Has a History, is specific to Chicago research, some of the tips included can be used in any city.

This booklet is composed of six steps. Step One – Checking the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. Step Two – Finding a copy of the building permit filed when your house was constructed. Step Three – Research information on the construction of your house (and any additions), its architect (if known), and its builder. Step Four – Finding information on the previous owners of your house. Step Five – Finding early or original plans, drawings and photos of your house.  Step Six – Your Neighborhood’s history.  The end of the booklet contains an extensive list of resources to find records.

In our collection of old family photographs, there are probably a few of the homes in which our ancestors lived. Does that home still exist today? One way to find out is to go on Google Earth and enter the address. The program will pinpoint the address and you can zoom in to look at the area. Sometimes a street view is also available. If I enter 2122 W. 18th Place, Chicago, IL, Google Earth will take me to 18th Place and the closest address, which is next door. 2122 does not exist. It was a wooden home, as tall as the ones on either side of it, and is no longer there. Instead, an empty lot filled with grass and trees is where the home stood. The houses on either side of the lot are brick. It will be interesting to find out what happened to the house. Did it burn down? Was it purposely taken down?

What about your current collection of family photographs? Does it include the house where you parents grew up? Where you grew up? Do you have a photograph of the house as it looks today? We can never forget to continue to record our current family history.

For more information specific to Chicago you may visit the Chicago History Museum’s webpage on Architecture.  http://www.chicagohs.org/research/resources/architecture

The Smithsonian has a great booklet online Finding History in your Home.

The Internet Public Library also has an extensive listing of resources on their Guide to Researching the History of your House page. 

Have you traced the history of any homes? What interesting things did you discover?

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Using Maps to Visually Make Sense of Family History Research

Maps are a valuable tool in family history.  Maps can be used to search for the place from which you ancestor came and can also be used to illustrate a point you want to make in your research and writings. In my research, maps have helped me in in three specific ways which are explained below.

Visually presenting the migration of a family within a city or state after immigration.

I have used Google Maps to build a map of Chicago in 1900 with the street addresses of my families. I am able to pinpoint a location on the map and add text to a pop up box. Google Maps connects to Google Earth and allows me to see a present day shot of the street and home, if the home still exists.  If I want to publish a map I have created, I can link to it, print it, or send it via email. Google Maps allows me to save maps I have created and either make them public or private. In my research, this has been a very useful tool for me to see where my families lived and where they moved as the families grew.

Illustrating the relationships between families.

At the turn of the century, many of my families lived near one another. As the children of the immigrants began their own families, and down yet another generation, mapping out the addresses has shown me that my families were close-knit. A child grew up, married, and typically moved within a street or few blocks from the parent’s home. The grandchildren could “walk across the alley” to grandma’s house for bakery.  Even as my families began moving out towards the suburbs, this same living proximity emerged. It was definitely a different way to live than most families today. I think many would find if they mapped out their parents addresses and those of the children, there would be a much greater distance than “a walk across the alley” between families.

Illustrating military movements.

As I explained in my post about Family Atlas Software, maps can provide a great visual to accompany text in our family history writings. I am currently writing the life story of Michael Kokoska, my great, great uncle who died in World War I in France.  While I do not have a Statement of Service record to know exactly where he fought, by reading his 32nd Unit history and the World War I Order of Battle books, I am able to plot on a map, places in France where his unit served. The software also allows me to add text to the map which gave me the ability to add a timeline for his military service. This map makes a great addition to his story.

How have you utilized maps in your research?

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Genealogy Mapping Software

A few months ago I began writing my great, great uncle, Michael Kokoska’s life story. He had a brief life, living only into his early 20’s and dying in France during World War I. I wanted to add a map to his story to illustrate where he fought in France during his months in the War overseas.

I found a fantastic genealogy mapping software program called Family Atlas. This program allows me to add places via a Gedcom upload, or by adding them at will. I am able to create custom maps, such as one I created for Michael’s story that has the places at which he fought. The map also has a timeline feature which I utilized when creating his map to document his entry into the Army and service through his death.

Users are able to publish the maps through a printer or by export to a PDF or picture file. The software matches what city you enter with one in the database complete with county and country. Users are also able to view their maps with or without county and country borders. The software has great tutorials so any level user is able to create amazing maps.

In my next article about using maps to document family history, I will give an example of a map I created using this software. Stay tuned!

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