The House on Kimbark

I’ve written before on my family’s long-time home in Chicago, the “house on Kimbark.” On my recent research trip to the Windy City, one of my top priorities was to investigate when my great-grandfather actually bought the property, and if I was lucky, perhaps identify if my ancestors were among the first residents at the address. A trip to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds would hopefully shed some light on my questions.

Based on previous research and family tradition, I suspected Sophus Hansen (1860-1945) first moved to 7042 S. Kimbark in the mid-to-late 1890′s, soon after he married Rose Grobner (1878-1939). Sophus first appeared at the address in the 1899 Chicago city directory and remained there for nearly 50 years until his death in 1945.

In their outstanding property search database, the Cook County Assessor’s Office has recently estimated that the house is 112 years old, placing the construction date at c.1900. Here is a closeup image of the 7000 block of S. Kimbark Avenue from the 1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Chicago, clearly showing the footprint of the residence at 7042.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map: Chicago, IL (Vol. 16: 1895), p. 87; 7042 S. Kimbark.

Located near the bottom of the image above, the residence is already there in 1895, tightly hemmed in on both sides. Since the house was built by the time Sophus was first listed there in the 1899 city directory, perhaps he was there before?

My visit to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds was particularly revealing. Armed with the exact legal description for the property (23.38.14, Lot 112, Brookhaven subdivision), I was thrilled with what I discovered in Tract Book #393:

Tract Book, Vol. 393, p. 149; Cook County (IL) Recorder of Deeds.

Two of the first entries for that property tie directly to Sophus Hansen. Dated 1887, this was quite a few years before I first estimated he was at the address, and in fact, only a month after his marriage to his first wife, Ursula.

Owning a property and having a house built there are two very different things entirely, so I maintained visions of grandeur that the Chicago building permits from the time period would reveal more about the construction date. However, as that collection only contains permits for structures built within the Chicago city limits, there was no record for the house’s initial construction. Indeed, at the time the Kimbark house was built, it was still part of Hyde Park, which was later annexed by Chicago in 1889, several years after my family home was already likely constructed.

I recently discovered this gem of an historic photograph, taken in c.1913. Although the trees obscure much of the house, one can still get a sense for the architecture, particularly the front porch. It is the only full-view historic image of the house that I’ve found.

7042 S. Kimbark Ave., Chicago (IL), c. 1913.

The older woman kneeling is likely Frederica Jarand Grobner (1854-1930) and the young woman on the right is likely Lydia Vierke Grobner (1886-1952); the young child is unidentified, although perhaps a child of Lydia’s.

Moving forward a few years, here is another image.

Rose Hansen & Shirley Russell, 7042 S. Kimbark, Chicago (IL), 1925.

Although no one is particularly happy about getting their picture taken here, I’m thrilled that it was, particularly given the visible “7042″ on the front door. In this 1925 image, Rose Grobner Hansen is with her grand-daughter Shirley Russell (1922-2005).

By the time ownership of the home finally transferred outside the family in the late 1950′s, 4 generations of my pedigree had lived there, including my mother. This one residence, more than any other in my research, represents my family’s genealogical center, that one place that served as the family’s focal point through the generations. My grandmother would often charmingly share stories of family and friends with my brother and I, using the “house on Kimbark” as a reference point. With the family having left Chicago long before I was born, I was obviously at a loss for many of the tales, yet still tried to absorb as much as I could.

Here is a recent picture of the house, taken only a few weeks ago. The structure’s footprint still bears a remarkable similarity to the 1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map above.

7042 S. Kimbark, Chicago (IL), August 2012.

Note the sign in the 2nd story front window: “For Sale.” The genealogist in me would relish the opportunity to purchase the property and reclaim “the house on Kimbark” for the family. It would certainly make for a good story, wouldn’t it?

Spreading the Word in Michigan

With a full slate of programs this week, including stops across Michigan in South Lyon, Charlotte, Davisburg, and Boyne City, I have a number of opportunities to reach out to and interact with library patrons, family history researchers, local societies, and their members.

This busy week comes at a most opportune time. With the transfer of the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection to the Archives of Michigan nearly complete, the time has arrived to promote the terrific collection and the many outstanding resources still available to family history researchers.

One popular misconception is that because it is an archives, all the resources are in closed stacks. False! Approximately two-thirds of the collection will be in glorious open stacks, allowing researchers to browse and discover the resources they are looking for; the remaining one-third will be available for quick retrieval. All of the heavy-use items, including family histories, local histories, and passenger list indexes, will be on the open stacks. Here is a picture of one row of book stacks at the Archives:

Archives of Michigan, Abrams Foundation Historical Collection

After a quick check-in at the front desk, researchers will find family histories (Michigan, too), passenger list resources, military indexes, city directories, getting-started handbooks and manuals, and local history and genealogy resources for dozens of states. States of particular strength include those with strong ties to Michigan and it’s early migration patterns: the New England region, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. All of these resources fit seamlessly with the Archives’ already existing foundational collection of Michigan state, county, and local histories.

Researchers may wish to begin by browsing ANSWER, the online catalog. Please note that the locations in the catalog are still being updated to reflect the Archives’ new holdings. In the interim, researchers are encouraged to contact the Archives staff, who will be happy to assist you in finding the source of interest.

The print resources that have moved over to the Archives are a complement to the already-outstanding collection of manuscript source material for Michigan, including such genealogically rich records as naturalizations, rural property inventories, state prison registers, county court case files, tax assessments, and Michigan vital records.

The digital platform for the Archives can be found at Seeking Michigan. Including Michigan state census records (in-process), Michigan Civil War regimental records, death records (from the Library of Michigan) covering 1897-1920, and naturalization indexes for more than 30 counties, this online destination for Michigan research will continue to grow. Visitor information, including contact numbers, street address, and open hours, can also be found here, at the “Visit Us” link under the Seek tab.

This collection transfer to the Archives of Michigan would not have been possible without the continued support of the Abrams Foundation, the Michigan Genealogical Council, the Records Preservation & Access Committee, and the management team of the Michigan Historical Center. Researchers with roots in the Great Lakes State and beyond owe a great debt of gratitude to these forward-thinking organizations.

With the uncertainty of the last few years now behind us, this is an exciting time for family history research in Michigan. Archives staff will be working hard to make this transition as seamless as possible, and we encourage researchers to stop by, take a look around, and perhaps discover something new. We look forward to assisting you in your family history journey, whether it takes you to Michigan, the Great Lakes region, or beyond. And perhaps I’ll see you this week on the road!

A Hansen Mystery Resolved

As my first ancestor to settle in Chicago, Sophus Soren Hansen, my g-g-grandfather, has always been of particular interest to me. Despite his arrival in the Windy City in the 1880′s, Sophus’ early years there always puzzled me. With a common surname, differentiating him from any other similarly named Hansen was difficult, to say the least.

Sophus Hansen married Rose Grobner in November 1895 in Chicago, and the couple had 3 children over the next dozen years. Yet one additional child, Josias, was born much earlier in 1888. Given how young Rose would have been then, and how long Sophus had already lived in Chicago, I suspected an earlier marriage, yet was unable to definitively link him to someone other than Rose.

In my research, one marriage record in particular grabbed my attention, where a Sophus S. Hansen married an Ursula Grass in Chicago in 30 April 1887. The date is consistent with Sophus’ arrival in the United States and also works with Josias’ birth date the following year. Here is the marriage record:

Sophus Hansen & Ursula Grass marriage, 30 April 1887 (#113758); Cook County (IL).

A good candidate, to be sure, but I was still not certain that this was my Sophus. Things became more clear, however, after my recent visit to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. After looking through the Tract Books for the family’s longtime property at 7042 Kimbark, Sophus’ name appears on both a mortgage and warranty deed, dated in the summer of 1887. After studying the books themselves, I found this reference: “This indenture made this twenty eighth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty seven between Sophus S. Hansen and Ursula Hansen his wife….”. The deeds reference Sophus’ acquisition of the property on Kimbark that was ultimately held by the family for decades, well into the 1950′s. By naming Ursula, this deed is the first document I found that links Sophus Hansen with his first wife.

As luck would have it, I returned home from my research trip to find Josias Hansen’s SS-5 Social Security application waiting for me. I had requested it a few months back, hoping it would arrive before my trip, but also validate my suspicion that Josias was indeed the son of Sophus and Ursula Grass Hansen. Here is a snipped copy:

Josias Hansen, SS-5 application.

As you can see, Josias’ mother is clearly Ursula Grass, as I suspected. Also note the address on Kimbark. Success! The Cook County marriage I had discovered earlier is indeed the correct record of marriage.

With this important find, Sophus’ early years in Chicago are now more in focus. After arriving in the city in the early 1880′s, he lived in an apartment building at 6904 Cregier for a few years. Sophus married Ursula Grass in April 1887, and Josias Hansen was born in November 1888. Around this time, the couple also acquired property at 7042 Kimbark. Ursula died in 1895 and is buried in Oakwoods Cemetery in Chicago in the Grass family plot, Section J1, Lot 533. Sophus remarried a few years later, and began a new family, remaining at the Kimbark address until his death in 1945.

Back in the Old Neighborhood

On my recent research trip to Chicago, there were a number of memorable finds and ancestral breakthroughs. Yet one of my most gratifying days was spent driving through the South Side, stopping at, taking pictures of, and trying to visualize those important and life-changing family events that took place at those locales.

Before my trip, I had amassed an impressive list of addresses for various bungalows, apartments, schools, churches, and other significant landmarks that defined and shaped my family’s life in Chicago. Using Google Maps, I plotted out all the locations out in advance, and re-ordered my list several times to make sure my route was the most direct possible. No sense criss-crossing the city wasting precious research time! Although Google offers the Street View, nothing compares to being there on location, driving the same streets and viewing the same neighborhood cityscapes.

Throughout the day, several locations stood out for me. The first was 8227 S. Indiana. According to my great aunt, this was the house where my grandparents were married in 1942.

8227 S. Indiana, Chicago (IL).

The Alderson’s first moved to that address in the mid-1930′s, according to the Chicago telephone directories from the era, and remained there for nearly 20 years. Fast forward to the mid-1960′s, a few short miles away. The Avalon Theater was showing “Disorderly Orderly,” starring Jerry Lewis. In the audience, my mother and father were on their first date.

Avalon (New Regal) Theatre, 1641 East 79th St., Chicago (IL).

Originally opened in 1927, the historic theatre was renamed the New Regal in the 1980′s. I remember both my parents pointing out that distinctive dome from the Chicago Skyway as we drove past. My parents’ first date must have gone well, as a few years later, they were married at St. Felicitas Church.

St. Felicitas Church, 1526 E. 84th St., Chicago (IL).

Located at 1526 E. 84th St., the church is again only a short distance from the other landmarks, schools, and residences that I visited on my travels that day. I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure, touring my family’s Chicago neighborhoods, viewing first-hand the sites and locations that shaped my family’s narrative. Yet perhaps the most rewarding part of my journey will be when I sit down with my parents to share and discuss my trip and findings. Perhaps I’ll glean some new insight into their experiences there in the South Side or learn about new locales that I’ll explore on my next adventure to Chicago.