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?

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.

A Vital Success in Pennsylvania

On 15 December 2011, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett approved Senate Bill 361, thereby amending the Vital Statistics Law of 1953 and providing public access to birth and death certificates after a certain number of years. With this law, Pennsylvania births become public records after 105 years and deaths after 50 years. A few short months later, indexes to the now-public records appeared online at the Pennsylvania Department of Health‘s web site; births from 1906 and deaths from 1906-1961.

The importance of these records is obvious. Given Pennsylvania’s geographic location, its sheer size and population, and its role in the growth and development of the national economy, these now-accessible records have transformed genealogical research in the Keystone State. So many of our ancestors, particularly those from Michigan and the Midwest states, have origins in Pennsylvania. Indeed, with my maternal line’s deep roots in the Pittsburgh area, this new law offered limitless opportunity to further my own research.

Two of my enduring family history mysteries are Frank and Mary Kamp. After living in Washington County, Pennsylvania at the time of the 1920 U.S. Census with their son, two daughters, and a son-in-law, the couple seemingly vanishes. I picked up the individual trail of each of the children in the 1930 Census, but Frank and Mary continually eluded my grasp; even a research trip to western Pennsylvania failed to shed much additional light. Of note, a conversation with my great aunt revealed that she had memories of her grandparents, and suggested that Mary had passed away long before Frank did.

With the Pennsylvania indexes now online, I scanned through the PDF’s year by year, hoping I would strike gold. Here is an entry for a Mary Kamp from the 1927 death indexes:

1927 death index entry for Mary J. Kamp, Pennsylvania Dept. of Health.

If this is my Mary, it would fit the timeline as suggested by my great aunt. In addition, Allegheny County is just north of where the family was in 1920 and Mary’s daughter Julia’s in-laws lived there in the county just south of Pittsburgh for many years. 16 to 18 weeks (!) and a small $3 fee later, I received a copy of the death certificate in the mail. Eureka!

Mary Jane Kamp death certificate, Pennsylvania Dept. of Health, 1927. #113673.

This death record both verifies existing data (parents’ names and birthplaces), but offers new information (exact birth date, age at death, exact death date, cemetery name, burial date, Frank’s address at the time of Mary’s death, undertaker). In a frustrating bit of irony, I was actually at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery a few years ago during my Pittsburgh research trip, yet I was focused on a different line in my research, so completely missed a chance with the Kamps. Oh, the irony!

Armed with this new information gleaned from the now-accessible death certificate, I will again attack the 1930 Census in a (vain?) attempt to locate Frank. In addition, I will continue to search in later years at the Department of Health’s death indexes, perhaps before the 1940 Census. The research never ends!

A Likely Public Charge

Early in my research, my father shared with me the family story that his grandmother – Wladyslawa (Winifred) Tobolski – was detained at Ellis Island until her brother (or was it her brother-in-law?) came from Chicago to claim her. That always struck me as odd, until I found her arrival record and discovered the pages at the end, the “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry.”

Wladyslawa Tobolska was born in Kazmierz-Biskupi, Poland, the daughter of Wojciech and Katherine Jachnek Tobolski. She immigrated to the United States aboard the Vaderland, arriving at New York from Antwerp in May 1906. Quickly settling in Chicago to live with her older sister and her family, Wladyslawa later married Stanislaus Piotrowski in April 1915 in Gary, Indiana.

Yet when Wladyslawa first came to the United States, she was only 8 years old. I think of my daughter, approximately the same age now as Wladyslawa was then, and I am simply amazed. The fear and excitement that must have gripped her during the trans-Atlantic journey!

Wladyslawa Tobolska, arr. New York, 29 May 1906, Vaderland, p. 100.

At first glance, Wladyslawa appears to be part of the Barizinska family, but we can see Tobolska written in a smaller font and at a slight upward diagonal, suggesting the surname was written in later at some point. The “Admitted” stamp on the left indicates that Wladyslawa and her traveling companions can be found in the Likely Public Charge pages at the end of the Vaderland‘s manifest. Marian Smith’s outstanding “Manifest Markings” articles provide additional information on this fascinating sub-story of the immigration phenomenon.

The family story, as told by my father, is indeed supported by the evidence. Being so young and unable to provide for herself, Wladyslawa was indeed detained by Ellis Island officials. Claimed by someone, perhaps her brother as the family tradition suggests, Wladyslawa reappears in the 1910 Census, living with her sister and her family in Chicago.

My father does not recognize the Barizinska name, nor has it come up elsewhere in my research. Here is an image from the “Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry” at the end of the Vaderland manifest.

Wladislawa Tobolska, arr. New York, 29 May 1906, Vaderland, p. 139.

That being said, there appears to be a family connection, as the “cous” mark shows next to Josefa’s entry. Perhaps Josepha (and Fanina) are cousins and traveled with Wladyslawa to ensure her safety in the long voyage across the Atlantic. Regardless, I have some new names and avenues to explore, both in the United States and in Poland.

A Famine Family

Years ago, one of my very first genealogical finds was a biographical entry for Frank Kamp in a Washington County, Pennsylvania history. It offered amazing details on the Kamp family, but, unexpectedly, the Hopper family. A new surname in my research! The Hopper’s linked to Frank Kamp’s wife, Mary Hanna, and her grandfather was James Hopper.

Born in County Derry, Ireland, in 1788, James Hopper immigrated to the United States with his wife and children in June 1849, first settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before moving south to Peters Township in Washington County shortly thereafter. Over the years, his Washington County farm expanded to 135 acres, and James died in 1885 at the youthful age of 97.

Hopper family, New York passenger list, arr. 30 June 1849 on the Ashburton

Above is the passenger list for the Hopper family, arriving at New York from Liverpool aboard the Ashburton on 30 June 1849. The family’s ages are a bit fluid, but this is clearly the correct family.

For a rookie genealogist, as I was at the time, the biographical entry in the Washington County history was simply overwhelming; it included birth and death information for James Hopper’s wife and 9 children, the county of origin in Ireland, the family’s year of immigration to the United States, details on the homestead in Peters Township, church affiliation, even the delightful comment that Hopper’s mother had once been the oldest woman in Ireland on record. Yet in my initial excitement, I missed perhaps the most critical piece of information: the historical context.

1849, the year that the Hopper’s emigrated to the United States, was no ordinary year in the history of Ireland. Already in full destructive force, the Great Famine traced back to the failure of the potato crop in 1845. With the population so dependent on the one crop, and coupled with the ineffective response from the British government, the situation soon became cataclysmic. As a result of the Great Famine, Ireland’s population dropped more than 20%, a staggering statistic; more than 1 million people died, and nearly 1 million more left the country, many emigrating to the United States. My family was among those that traveled to America, what a compelling and equally tragic story.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of my research on the Hopper family in County Derry. I’d like to learn more about the local conditions before, during, and after the Famine, how many other families from the area emigrated, and how long the Hopper’s had lived there before departing for the United States. With a trip to Salt Lake City planned for next year, my research agenda will most definitely continue to grow.

A Crowded House

As I’ve written about before, both sides of my family have deep roots in Chicago. One personal area of interest is learning more about the South Side neighborhoods my family lived in, and particularly in finding images of my ancestors’ homes.

Although certain Windy City streets resonate throughout my family’s history, one of the most important is Kimbark. According to the Chicago city directories, Sophus and Rose Hansen first appear at 7042 S. Kimbark Avenue at the dawn of the twentieth century, a few years after they married in 1895. Over the years, Sophus and Rose raised their family there on Kimbark, and also sheltered Rose’s parents in their later years. Leona, a daughter, married Fenton Russell in 1918, and they, too, resided at the house while starting their own family. A crowded house, indeed! In all, the family spent approximately 50 years at the S. Kimbark Avenue house.

Finding historic images of the Kimbark house and the neighborhood has been challenging. Although several family photographs show the front step or other features of the home, I have been unable to find an historic image that displays the house in its entirety.

Enter the Cook County Assessor’s Office. With their free online database, users can search by address, neighborhood, PIN, and a number of other options. A quick search for 7042 S. Kimbark returns the property details for the home, including the assessed value, market value, building description, type of construction, square footage for both the home and property, even the number of bathrooms. Most importantly, it identifies the approximate age of the home, as well as a recent photograph of the structure.

7042 S. Kimbark Ave., Chicago (IL)

According to the Assessor’s Office entry for 7042 S. Kimbark, the house is approximately 109 years old, which dates its construction to c.1903. Although not exactly aligned with the Hansen’s first entry in the city directory, it is close; further research is certainly needed. I’ll need to review the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the neighborhood, and land and property records are near the top of my research agenda for my upcoming Chicago research trip later this summer.

The image above was taken in March 2007. When I first discovered the Cook County Assessor’s database, the image then displayed for 7042 S. Kimbark was dated March 2000. I may not currently have an historic image of the Kimbark home, but I at least have two contemporary images, giving two different views of the structure.

In Memory of “Bud”

For much of my life, Memorial Day weekend centered on spending time with my family, Gravel Lake, and the Indianapolis 500. Yet about 10 years ago, my holiday experience took on new meaning with the discovery of a World War II crash site in Papua New Guinea.

Francis “Bud” Piotrowski was born 29 August 1918 in Dowagiac, Michigan. His family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan shortly thereafter, where they quickly established themselves in the Polish neighborhood northeast of downtown. Bud graduated from Central High School in Kalamazoo in 1936, and majored in music at Michigan State College (Michigan State University today), graduating from there in 1940. An accomplished musician, Francis played the bassoon in the Wyandotte (MI) Symphony Orchestra.

Shortly after his graduation from college, Bud enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1941, and later graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. With the United States now fully engulfed in World War II, Bud was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina before going overseas to the Pacific Theater.

Lt. Francis J. Piotrowski

On 7 February 1944, 2nd Lt. Piotrowski and Maj. Earl Kindig were aboard a Piper L-4 on a reconnaissance mission near Gabutamon, Papua New Guinea. Last seen approximately 18 miles southwest of Saidor, the airplane vanished; extensive searches of the area yielded no trace of the aircraft or the two men. First designated as Missing in Action, Piotrowski was officially presumed dead by the War Department one year later, and was posthumously awarded an Air Medal and Purple Heart.

Although Bud was lost long before I was born, my brother and I were certainly aware of our great-uncle’s story. Indeed, I vividly remember a conversation with my grandmother where she still expressed deep sadness and regret about never having learned what happened and where on that February day. More than anything, she just wanted a sense of closure, both for her brother and for the rest of the family.

A few years after my grandmother died, our family was notified by the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Laboratory that a crash site had been found in Papua New Guinea. Human remains, personal effects, and aircraft wreckage were all consistent with the missing Kindig/Piotrowski flight. DNA analysis later verified this. The full range of emotion at the discovery – disbelief, joy, pride, love – was tempered only by the realization that my grandmother did not live to see her brother’s journey completed.

A special ceremony for Piotrowski and Kindig was held at Arlington National Cemetery, the common grave for the two men can be found there at Section 60, Site 8022. Bud was later reunited with his family at a special service at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Indeed, he is now buried alongside his mother, father, and brother in the southeast corner of Lot 73, Block R.

Piotrowski headstone, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kalamazoo (MI). Lot 73, Block R.

Bud’s sister, my grandmother, Stella Clara Piotrowski, is buried with her husband, Leo Rzepczynski, in Mount Olivet’s mausoleum, a short walk from the Piotrowski plot.

Sharing that full military honors event at Mount Olivet Cemetery with my family, and particularly with my father, Francis’ namesake, remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Our family now has the closure that my grandmother always wished for.

Due at Her Pier…

One of my favorite subjects in family history is immigration and passenger list research. Not only the compelling personal stories of our ancestors as they leave one life behind to begin another, but also the infinite array of research possibilities: the ports of arrival, the ships and vessels themselves, the genealogical value and evolution of the records, and of course, the various spelling permutations of our ancestor’s surnames.

Many researchers are understandably focused on the manifests themselves as they begin their immigration research, yet by doing so, they overlook a potential key source of information. Many port city newspapers maintained a shipping column in their pages, a daily list identifying what ships are coming, going, or expected to arrive in the next day or two. This Shipping & Mails column is particularly helpful in verifying the date of arrival of an ancestor’s ship, much like the Morton Allan Directory, but can also provide unique one-of-a-kind information detailing a ship’s arrival.

Let’s take a closer look at the Shipping & Mails column, using Stanley Piotrowski, my great-grandfather, as an example. Born in Kolo, Poland in March 1886, Stanley immigrated to the United States in April 1909, arriving at Ellis Island aboard the President Grant. Here is the entry from the Shipping & Mails column in the 15 April 1909 edition of the New York Times, indicating the ship’s expected arrival that day:

“Incoming Steamships,” New York Times, 15 April 1909, p. 16, col. 7.

It’s a bit smudged, but the article above also shows that the President Grant departed Hamburg on April 4, thus making the trans-Atlantic voyage in 11-12 days. Further down the column, additional information on the President Grant‘s arrival at Ellis Island can be found.

“Reported by Wireless,” New York Times, 15 April 1909, p. 16, col. 7.

An extension of the New Jersey coastline, Sandy Hook is just south of the entrance to New York’s harbor, meaning that the President Grant was still more than 300 miles out to sea the day before arriving at Ellis Island. More importantly, because of this newspaper article, I now have the approximate hour (2 p.m.) when my immigrant ancestor first set foot in the United States. What a find!

The manifest itself reveals information on Stanley’s life, occupation, birthplace, who paid his passage, final destination, and much more, but this Times article sheds a whole different light on his arrival at Ellis Island, offering a level of detail not found in any other source, save perhaps a personal diary or family oral tradition. We all strive to make those personal connections with our research, linking the past both to the present and future. Like the example here, perhaps the local newspaper can make those connections for you and your immigrant ancestor.

Grossmama Grobner

Being at NGS in Cincinnati this past week, and catching up on things at home, I haven’t had much time to work on blog postings. Cincinnati was a terrific host city, the conference itself was fantastic, and it was nice to catch up with friends and to make new ones. I’ll write more later on the conference, but for today, I’m going to look at one of my more treasured family photographs.

Shirley Russell, my grandmother, was born in Chicago in 1922. She married William Alderson in 1942, and together, they spent many years with their family in the Windy City before moving to New Buffalo, Michigan in the late 1960′s. I take particular delight in seeing images of my grandmother as a toddler, girl, or young woman, as all of my personal memories of her are as an older woman with snow white hair; the idea of her as someone  more youthful – with “not-white” hair – was completely foreign to me until I stumbled across an older collection of family photographs.

Shirley Russell and “Grossmama” Frederica Jarand Grobner, Chicago, May 1924.

Here, a label with the May 1924 photo identifies my grandmother with “Grossmama,” who I believe is Frederica Jarand Grobner, her great-grandmother. The only other possible ancestor from that time on my tree would be Mary Ann Everett Russell, but with her English and Canadian ancestry, the image’s use of the German “Grossmama” does not fit particularly well. Thus, the likely image of Frederica Jarand emerges; her parents were both born in Germany, and she spent her early years in the German community in Quincy, Illinois. She took over her father’s saloon after his death in 1882 before moving to Chicago with her husband Joseph Grobner around 1890.

In the image above, my grandmother would be just past her second birthday, while Frederica would be about 70 years old. Indeed, she would pass away a few years later in July 1930, a few months after the 1930 Census.

Multi-generational photos are always priceless in their own way, and this one is no exception. My grandmother’s clear displeasure with getting her picture taken with Grossmama is particularly obvious. Thinking back to some of my own personal experiences, I think we’ve all been there….