Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Interesting Clippings #12: Photography

Being a photographer myself, the history and evolution of photography in society interests me very much. This 1866 article caught my eye as it talks about the rapid growth of photography at the time.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013's City Directories

ACOM's City Directories aren't always the easiest records collection to use. Though they are improving, you'll probably find wildly inaccurate and nonsensical transcriptions - for example, a "1" instead of an "I". This is because they were transcribed by a computer with what is called OCR, Optical Character Recognition. The benefit is that it's quicker than having human beings index millions of names but the downside is that there can be lots of errors, especially depending on the quality of the original document or the scan. Basically, OCR is programmed to recognize the basic shapes of common characters in the English language on an image/scan and output it into text so when two or more characters look similar, it can get confused as to which one it is. This, of course, means that using the search function on the city directories is hit and miss but here's some tips to help you find what you're looking for.

  • Restrict to location. Make sure you've got the advanced search open (in the upper right corner of the search box, click "show advanced"). Type in the city name in the "lived in" field and in the drop down menu below it which says "use default settings" select "restrict to this place exactly". Obviously, only do this is you want to restrict your search to one city - if you know the person you're looking for lived there and only there. Since this part of the search doesn't use OCR, it's very effective in at least narrowing down your search to one location so your results aren't cluttered with irrelevant entries.
  • Enter a year. Similarly, if you have an approximate time period you're trying to search in, plug a year into the "any event" date. Only tick "exact" if you're looking for that specific year - if not, leave it unticked and you'll get results of or around that year. Use the +/- drop down to expand the year range further if you need to. There's also a "residence year" field at the bottom and in my experience, it works exactly the same so I don't know why there's both.
  • Use the asterisk. First try entering the full name of the individual - you might get a few results with good OCR entries but it won't be comprehensive. To find more entries, keep in mind that you really need only find an entry of any name on the same page and then you can open up the original document to check the details of the specific person you're looking for. So let's say you're looking for James Bronson - leave the first name field blank and merely type in "Bro*" or "Bron*" with the asterisk after the first few letters of the surname. The asterisk tells the system to search for all surnames beginning with "Bro" or "Bron". Most results, though they may not be for James Bronson exactly, will open up the page where I can find him, if not the previous or following page.
  • Use the keyword field. If you know the occupation of the individual or the name of the company where they worked, try plugging it into the "Keyword" field. This doesn't always work since it's dependant on the OCR but it can help. Alternatively, if you're looking for a specific address, it can also be entered in the keyword field, though I suggest not entering the full address, just part of it. Like if it's 100 Main Street, just put in "main". Also remember the asterisk can be used in this field too.

This photo of an unknown young man
was probably taken in 1893 or 1894.
I've been effectively using these methods to find the time periods and addresses of which different photographers in or around Philadelphia operated in order to get approximate dates on when my "mystery photos" were taken. For example, one of the photographs says the photographer and studio information is "James Bronson 4721 Main Street Germantown" and I discovered James Bronson had a studio at this specific address only during the years of 1893 and 1894 so I was able to narrow down one photo to only a two year period. Of course, it's important to remember that the directories didn't update on the fly so it's possible for an individual to move addresses after the directory is published with their former address. Theoretically, that means it could have also been taken in 1892, though the directory says Bronson's studio was at 4946 Germantown Ave in 1892, he could have moved later in the year.

Even if your photos aren't mystery photos and you have identified the individual in them, finding when the photographer operated at the address labelled can still help narrow down when the picture was taken.

I also used these methods to find tenants of my ancestor's properties by putting the address into the keyword field. There are many various ways to use these methods.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Interesting Clippings #11: Remember Your Deceased

The Pittsburgh Press, December 9, 1913.
While I was looking for an obituary in the Pittsburgh Press of my 2nd great grandmother, the one who died of acute alcoholism, I spotted an interested ad beneath the list of death notices in which a photographer was advertising his services to photograph the deceased or floral offerings. It may seem morbid and wildly inappropriate to take a photo of a corpse to us but in history, post-mortem photography was acceptable to society when often, it may be the only photograph of a loved one the family might have. It's popularity decreased in the 20th century with the introduction of "snapshot" cameras like the Kodak Brownie in 1900 which made photography easy and affordable to the masses. So I was a little surprised to see this advertised in 1913 but Wikipedia assures me that formal memorial pictures were still being produced into the 20th century.

On another note, I feel like the genealogy gods are against me today. My 2nd great grandmother Anna Jane (Russell) Bauer died December 7, 1913 in Pittsburgh and I was hoping to find an obituary in the Pittsburgh Press from December 8th or 9th (hence how I found today's interesting clipping), but probably more likely the 8th. Frustratingly, the paper for December 8th and only December 8th, of all days, is missing! The 9th has no obituary for her. I even checked the 10th but by then, there don't seem to be any listings going back as far as the 7th. I actually didn't have high hopes for finding an obituary for Anna, simply because I'm pretty confident she was disowned by her family and died alone. They did not even pay for her to have a headstone. But I thought maybe even the lack of an obituary would give me more insight into just how strongly her family felt about their detachment from her. However, I can't even confirm that there was no obituary since the one paper I need to see is missing!

Friday, March 8, 2013

1907 Pittsburgh Flood

Fifth & Liberty Streets, Pittsburgh, March 1907. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Report from Flood Commission,
courtesy Historic Pittsburgh.
In March of 1907, the three rivers on which Pittsburgh sits, Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela, elevated to epic levels due to snowmelt and heavy rain and flooded the city causing $5 million of damage. At this time, my Bauer ancestors lived on Fayette Street in Allegheny, which is now W North Ave, and owned six properties in total on Fayette Street and Faulkner Alley (now Faulsey Way) which they rented out. The homes were all located near the Ohio River and may have been damaged by the 1907 flood. The report from the flood commission, shown right, indicates that the official flood line (shown in green to the right) stopped before reaching their homes but there are lines extending beyond it which do reach the Bauer's properties (all located in the red block) and I'm not sure exactly what they indicated. I imagine it must mean something in relation to the flood.

The Library of Congress has several photographs of the flooding and the Pittsburgh Press found on Google Newspaper Archives details the events as it happened. While there are no specific mentions or photos of my ancestors or their properties, these do give great insight into the event and how it must have effected my ancestors.

Liberty & Water Streets, Pittsburgh, March 1907. Courtesy Library of Congress.

It amused me somewhat to see that on March 12th, although there was not yet any mention of the flood in the Pittsburgh Press, the local forecast says "rain". The only hint of the oncoming flood is at the bottom of the forecast where it says, "The rivers will rise". Slight understatement.

By the next day, the biggest headline on the paper shouts, "Train Swept Off Bridge, 3 Dead" with a photograph of one of the deceased. This actually occurred in Harmarville, an unincorporated community outside Pittsburgh, on West Penn Railroad over Deer Creek. Assuming the railroad tracks are the one still in existence, they run parallel to Freeport Road, near where Deer Creek meets the Allegheny River. Other creeks were being reported as flooded as well with the rivers predicted to rise to "dangerous" levels.

Pittsburgh Press March 14, 1907.
On the 14th, the Pittsburgh Press reported that the streets on the north side (Allegheny) were "like Venice" and that residents were angry that they were not warned of the approaching high waters. It says that the waters began quickly rising at 3 o'clock in the morning and within only five hours, hundreds of homes were flooded up to the second floor with hundreds marooned despite great efforts to move people out of the flood area with wagons.

At this point, there were 12 reported dead, not including the three from the Harmarville accident. There names were S. Kennett, George Johnston (only 6 years old), Charles Rainey, Lloyd Weyant, Williams Beers, Annie Shute, two unnamed Hungarians, and four other unnamed foreigners.

Fortunately, within only 24 hours the water levels were beginning to recede, as reported the very next day on March 15. Allegheny, where my ancestor's lived, was said to be in a "sorry plight". At the time, it was estimated the damage was over $20 million but according to Wikipedia, the final cost wound up being more like $5 million. It's true that at the time, it was the worst flood the city had seen in terms of record water levels and damage to the city but the death count was fairly low. Since the 1907 flood though, Pittsburgh has experienced even worse floods.

The reports of the city's recovery continued to be detailed on the 16th as business resumed and streets were being cleaned but more accounts of the destruction were still coming in as telephone lines were repaired, especially the death toll. 15 more deaths were listed: Christopher Lutz, William Bashford, John Draga, Frank Shellaby, John Adley, Ernest Herrington, Paul Elko, a four year old son of J.B. Tomololsky, an unnamed foreigner, and six other unnamed men. Wikipedia says the total fatalities were 6-12 but if the Pittsburgh Press is accurate, they were at least 27, or 30 if you count those from the Harmarville accident. Wikipedia's information is cited from the Library of Congress and the LoC article says the details were extracted from newspaper articles at the time of the flood but they do not cite the article. The exact numbers of deaths as well as the total cost of the destruction varies over many newspaper clippings so as ever, Wikipedia's details may not be exactly accurate. An article in the Daily Public Ledger of Maysville, KY on March 16 put the costs at $10 million and though there was no fatality count, it claimed that hundreds of thousands were left idle.

More photographs of the flood, all from the Library of Congress (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Tragic Family of James Addison Smith

James Addison Smith, unfortunately
I don't have any photos of his wife or
James Addison Smith is not one of my ancestors but I am related to him. He was one of the many sons of my ancestors Robert Hawkins Smith and Octavia M. Wood, who I detailed in an earlier post regarding their premarital love letters. I am descended from their son, Robert Louis, James' brother. Descendants of James might be interested to know that this family was plagued with tragedy and scandal. His son Olaf was killed young in a train accident, his daughter Mary suffered from Schizophrenia while his other daughter Marjory and his wife Maggie (Margaret Peay) both became drug addicts, dependent on morphine.

Mary Ryland Smith was born January 25, 1896 in Logan County, Kentucky to James Addison Smith and Margaret "Maggie" Peay. Sometime between the ages of 14 and 24, her family moved to Tennessee. This would have probably been around the same time she started experiencing symptoms of Schizophrenia since it's onset typically occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood. Initially, the family lived in Memphis but by 1930, they had moved to Nashville and so it was at the Central State Hospital for the Insane in Nashville on Murfreesboro Pike that Mary finally found herself by 1935. Presumably, her parents had grown too old to care for her (they were in their 70's) or perhaps her mental condition had deteriorated beyond what they could handle.

Central State Hospital for the Insane, courtesy
Asylum Projects
The Central State Hospital for the Insane is what it was known as when Mary died in 1957 but it was previously named the Tennessee Hospital for the Insane and after Mary's time there, Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. After 1963, it was also home to the Tennessee Neuropsychiatric Institute. And it had originally been called the Tennessee Lunatic Asylum when it was at a different location on what is now Twelfth Avenue South and Division Street. It had been plagued by financial problems almost from it's opening in 1840 and so it was rebuilt on Murfreesboro Pike in 1851, long before Mary was admitted. It moved locations again in 1995 to Stewarts Ferry Pike and the building on Murfreesboro Pike was demolished in 1999, a Dell computer assembly plant now sits there. The image immediately below is labelled "Central Hospital for the Insane" which is the nearest name to what is was called when Mary died, and that suggests this was how it looked while she lived there. Further below is an image which may have been how the building looked prior to modifications and expansions.

Central State Hospital for the Insane, probably how it looked at the time
Mary lived there, courtesy Asylum Projects

In 1940, the hospital was home to 1788 patients and at least 133 staff, of which only three were nurses. Most staff were attendants but there were also several superintendents, two cooks, a baker, many staff who worked in the laundry department, one night watchman, two stenographers, a telephone operator, an accountant, a few clerks, general workmen, and more. There were three physician assistants, a couple of student interns, and presumably physicians too, although they are not listed on the census.

Tennesse State Hospital for the Insane, possibly
a pre-modified version on Murfreesboro Pike.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Mary suffered from what was then known as a chronic undifferentiated type of Schizophrenia, now simply known as undifferentiated type which means that the patient shows two or more of the symptoms of all three of the main types of Schizophrenia - paranoid, disorganized, and catatonic - but none prominently enough to categorized it as any one type in particular. This meant Mary probably had some delusions or hallucinations, disorganized speech or behavior and/or may have been catatonic at times.

In my grandmother's genealogy notes, Mary is described as having "went crazy". Though a common, if outdated term, it probably referred to the fact that Mary was likely quite normal as a child and at least in her early teens. She may not have even developed symptoms until her early 20's so it's easy to say she "went crazy" rather than "was crazy", even if it seems to wrongly suggest something drove her to it rather than being a medical condition. It must have been distressing for a family to watch a loved one deteriorate before their eyes and be helpless to stop it. Her parents were obviously devoted to looking after her themselves since they refused to institutionalize her until they were in their 70's, though knowing that her mother Maggie was a drug addict, much of the responsibility may have fallen on James. In fact, Maggie's drug addiction may have been the only way she could cope with her daughter's tragic fate.

The layout of Central State Hospital for the Insane
on Murfreesboro Pike, courtesy Asylum Projects.
Click image to enlarge.
Two of their other daughters, Ella and Mona, remain unmarried and living with them well into their 30's, perhaps because they too dedicated themselves to caring for their sister and perhaps their mother. According to my grandmother's information, it was because James was very protective and controlling of his daughters and wouldn't let them out of the house without their mother and they weren't allowed to have boyfriends.

A third daughter Marjory, also an addict and also never married, lived at the family home into her 40's, perhaps initially to look after her sister only to succumb to her mother's fate. She did manage to complete two years of college and consistently work as a file clerk, though at various locations, first a railroad company, then a hardware store, and finally a manufacturing company. In 1940, she was working 44 hours a week, 52 weeks a year and making an annual $720. Today, this would be about $22,000. So perhaps her addiction occurred later in her life because it seems unlikely that she could hold a job with so many hours as an addict.

Ella was a proofreader, though it's difficult to tell how much she was making since she appears to have been unemployed for much of year when the census was taken. She had resumed work (40 hours a week) by this point but had only been back for 4 weeks time and made $68 in that time. Theoretically, if she worked 52 weeks out of the year at that rate, she'd make $884 annually. That's about $27,000 today.

Mona was a copy holder, someone who read an original document aloud for a proofreader (who reads the proof copy) and calls attention to errors. In 1930, she and her proofreader sister Ella were both working at a printing company so perhaps they worked together. However, by 1940, Mona was no longer working. By this point, Mary was already living in the institute so Mona was not staying home to care for her.

I do not think any of the these three daughters, Marjory, Ella, and Mona, ever had children (certainly Mary did not) but James and Maggie did have three other children, Madge Smith (b. abt. 1890), James Addison Smith Jr. (b. abt. 1901), and Laura Smith (b. abt. 1909), who may have so I'm listing their details in case any descendants Google them and find this useful. Madge manage to escape her father's oppressive rules by running away with a salesman she met at her father's store. Her father disowned her but she kept in touch with her mother and sisters. I'm not sure what happened to Laura, she either died or somehow managed to escape the house since she was no longer living there in 1940.

Mary died in the State Hospital on June 4, 1957 of a Cerebral Hemorrhage when she was 61 years old. There was no contributing or underlying cause listed on her death certificate which means her death was unrelated to her mental illness.

I must admit that I don't have documented evidence of the other tragedies of this family. I'm not even sure the drug addictions would have been documented to begin with, it may have been information that was passed down generations since I got this info from my grandmother. Margaret died in 1954 and there is no mention of her addiction as a contributing cause of death. Olaf's train accident though should be documented somewhere and I have searched but not found anything yet. I will update this if that changes and if anyone knows anything more about it, please let me know!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interesting Clippings #10: Personal Ads and Mail-Order Brides

The cliche of putting an ad in the newspaper to find a partner in life has a long history, except in history people seemed to cut to the chase and put out ads for a spouse, aka mail-order bride.

Recently, while nursing a cold, I was watching Ripper Street on BBC, an excellent show about the police department in the East End which dealt with the Jack the Ripper murders set after the murders ended. It's highly fictionalized but also highly entertaining with excellent characters and for those in the US, it is being aired on BBC America so get watching! Anyway, the latest episode dealt with a human trafficking in which young, destitute women were targeted through a newspaper ad of a gentleman supposedly looking for a wife and companion. It got me thinking about what sort of personal ads I could find for my Interesting Clippings feature.

The Evening World, New York,
N.Y. October 19, 1894
Chronicling America
To the right is a clipping of widower Col. Thomas Ruggles 1894 ad in The Evening World, a New York City newspaper, in which he is seeking a wife. It appears despite numerous attempts, he can't find a northern woman to his liking who is willing to join him in the south. With the Civil War not before, there was still a lot of anti-northern sentiment in the south. The reason Ruggles was looking for a northern wife was because he himself was a Yankee, presumably stationed in the south at the time, and so probably most southern woman would not have been willing to marry him.

Despite sounding rather lonely and anxious for a new wife, he also sounds a little picky as he ruled out the few responses he had which weren't from "Bowery girls" (Bowery being a low-end area of NYC at the time) for having seen too many "frosty winters" (too old, I presume) or sounding too "high-toned" for suggesting a different location to meet. The audacity! What amuses me most is the fact that he changed his name in the personal ad to "Thomas Rich" - perhaps he thought women were put off by "Ruggles" - maybe because it sounds a bit silly? Or maybe he just thought the "Rich" would be a reflection of his financial status and attract women?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Glimpse of the Past: 9th and South St, Philly

I love looking at old photos and seeing what the same spot looks like now so I thought I'd make this a new feature.

This is a 1954 photo of 9th and South Street in Philadelphia (from and below it, a Google Street View image of what it looks like now. In fact, the website has a built in Google Street View but not all the photos I highlight will be from this source.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

National Women's History Month: Favorite Female Ancestor

March is Women's History Month in the US and over at The Accidental Genealogist, it's being celebrated with daily prompts, each one with specific ideas for bloggers on how to honor the women in your tree. I won't be able to keep up with all of them but I thought I'd pick out a few that inspired me.

Abelone Gundersdatter and her husband,
Gabriel Andreas Adams Friis
The first was "Do you have a favorite female ancestor?"

I have several but the one that always sticks out in my mind immediately when I think of strong, independent characters is my Norwegian 3rd great grandmother, Abelone Gundersdatter Fries. She was born in Lyngdal, Vest-Agder County, Norway in 1825 to Gunder Leegsen and Aase Olsdatter and grew up on the Fladen farm. When she was 23, she decided to pack up and leave the family home on her own. At this point, I'm not sure exactly where she went. When she left Lyngdal, she was recorded in the parish records as heading to what looks like 'Kobbervig' but I can't confirm where this is. In any case, within three years, she had immigrated to America and married Gabriel Andreas Adams Friis on September 15, 1851 in Chicago. They settled in a town called Norway in Racine County, Wisconsin where Abelone tended the farm while her husband sailed the Great Lakes. She gave birth to ten children, six of whom survived to adulthood. Even considering her hardy Scandinavian heritage, some of her behavior was quite masculine, she smoked a clay pipe and when visiting neighboring farms, would discuss the fields with the man of the house. Bizarrely, she loved the smell of manure and would actually dip a corner of her handkerchief in it and carry it around with her.

According to my great grandfather, her grandson, she had favorites among her grandchildren and when they were sick, her favorites were given sweets while the others received bad tasting medicine.

After the death of her husband when he was only 50 years old, she continued to tend the farm which remained in her name throughout her 60s until she died when she was 70 years old in 1896. She is buried in Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery in Racine County.

She was certainly a unique character and independent woman to immigrate to America on her own and tend the roles and tasks on her farm that were typically performed by men, and so (despite her favoritism among her grandchildren) I always think of her foremost when I think of strong female characters in my tree.