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.

Lovin’ My Flip-Pal Scanner

A few months ago at the Historical Society of Michigan’s Local History Conference, I purchased a Flip-Pal mobile scanner from my good friend and fellow genealogist Karen Krugman. As a Flip-Pal independent reseller, she’d earlier given me a demonstration when she came to research at the Library of Michigan, and had also written about and talked up the portable and versatile scanner.

Like any child on Christmas morning, I held the device in my hands, excited about the possibilities. Visions of grandeur danced through my head, scanning this, scanning that, transforming my entire collection of genealogical images and documents into a digital paradise in a matter of days.

Well….as it often does, life got in the way. Fast forward to a few weeks ago – the kids were asleep early, my wife had some TV shows to catch up on, and I’m suddenly left with an open evening (!). What’s a genealogist to do? I pulled out the Flip-Pal and finally got to work.

My first target was an old photo album from Leona Hansen, my great-grandmother. Born in Chicago in March 1897, she married Fenton Harvey Russell in October 1918, and died in Michigan City, Indiana in February 1981. Leona’s photo album contains hundreds of images, all taken roughly between 1916-1918, most of them in or around Chicago. As with many scrapbooks and albums from that era, the photographs were pasted or taped to the black construction paper pages; as the years have passed, the strength of the pages has deteriorated, leaving many frayed corners, separated pages, and loose pictures. As a result, I’d been reluctant to further stress the album’s binding and pages, yet still wanted to transfer the album into a digital format using affordable technology.

Enter the Flip-Pal. Removing the scanner lid, I laid the scanner face down on each page and, with minimal pressure, quickly scanned the album in its entirety. Although the scanner bed is a fair size, it did take several scans to capture each page from the album. With the scanning completed, the fun really begins: stitching together multiple scans. After selecting which images to piece together, the software does all the work and in just a few moments presents a new image, digitally re-creating the album’s page in its entirety. Easy!

Here is one example from the album, where three separate scans were stitched seamlessly together.

Page from Leona Hansen photo album, c. 1916-1918.

Here we have Rose Hansen on the left, her husband Sophus in the middle, and finally, Leona herself on the right. If you can make it out on the bottom left hand corner, the penciled-in date reads August 1917. Leona is therefore 20 years old, about one year before her marriage to Fenton Russell.

Battery powered, easy-to-use, portable, and affordable, a combination that can’t be beat. With this first album scanned and stitched, I can’t wait to get started on the rest of my collection!

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.

My Chicago-born Alien

For many years, the naturalization laws in force in the United States – up to 1922 – indicated that a non-native born woman attained citizenship when her husband did, or when she married an American citizen. Known as derivative citizenship, this process also applied to children when the father naturalized. The plot thickened in March 1907, when a new law stated that a U.S.-born woman would lose her citizenship if she married an alien; she could, however, re-attain citizenship if her husband naturalized. A more detailed study of the laws and their implications for genealogy research can be found in Marian Smith’s outstanding article in NARA’s Prologue.

Years ago, one of the first documents I discovered in my research was Leona Russell’s Oath of Allegiance, dated December 1940. Still a genealogy neophyte at the time, I remember that fact striking me as odd, since I knew that she was born in Chicago, making her a U.S. citizen – or so I thought. As my research continued, I learned more about the complex labyrinth of naturalization and citizenship law, and soon recognized that my great-grandmother fit into that fascinating category of “native-born alien.”

Born in Chicago in March 1897, Leona Hansen married Fenton Harvey Russell in October 1918. A draftsman by trade, Fenton was born in Toronto, Ontario in July 1883, and first immigrated to the United States in 1909, quickly settling in Chicago. He later filed his Declaration of Intention in the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois in February 1919, meaning that at the time of his marriage to Leona, Fenton was still legally an alien, a non-U.S. citizen. By saying “I do,” Leona forfeited her status as an American citizen; indeed, her entry in the 1920 Census identifies her as an alien.

Leona Russell listed as an alien (far right); note the "X" for the year of immigration. 1920 US Census, IL, Cook, Chicago, ED 335, p. 11B.

After several modifications to the 1907 law, Congress finally reinstated citizenship to those affected women in July 1940, although they still were required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. This explains Leona’s 1940 oath that I found at the launch of my genealogical journey, and closes a particularly fascinating chapter in American legal and immigration history.

Image from Leona Russell's Oath of Allegiance, U.S. District Court, Chicago, Illinois, 6 December 1940.

Ironically, Fenton became a U.S. citizen in October 1922, a few short years after his marriage to Leona. She would have to wait 18 more years.

A Rediscovered Gathering

Few things are as exhilarating for a genealogist as looking through old family photographs and discovering something new, an important clue or detail that was overlooked or missed at the first glance. One such example is a set of photographs I have of Leona Hansen, my great-grandmother, and a group of her teenage friends, each in in various costumes and slumber party-wear.

Born in Chicago in 1897, Leona Hansen lived at 7042 Kimbark for many years with her parents, Sophus and Rose. After her marriage in 1918 to Fenton Harvey Russell, Leona and her new husband continued to reside at the same address. Later in life, Leona moved to New Buffalo, Michigan, and died in February 1981 in Michigan City, Indiana.

Here is one of the images I recently re-discovered; taken roughly between 1914-1916, it is one of my favorites:

A Friend-ly Get Together, Chicago, c. 1916

Moving right to left, Leona is the third from the right, marked with a “Leona” above her. A number of details immediately jump out from the image. One is the decorative pumpkin on the piano on the right, indicating that the picture was likely taken around Halloween; the girls’ costumes reinforce this idea. The image was likely taken in one of the girls’ homes, as the interior furnishings suggest. The portrait on the upper right corner could potentially be an important clue, but I unfortunately do not recognize the subject. Another important clue is the photographer, identified on the lower left: Garvey, 1443 E. 63rd St in Chicago. That address is fairly close to Leona’s house on Kimbark, another good sign; further research with the Chicago city directories may clarify the studio’s years of operation, thus narrowing the approximate year of the photograph. The other young women in the photograph are all unidentified, but are presumably classmates; this verifies my estimated years for the date of the photograph.

At the time I scanned the photographs, I was so focused on the fact that Leona was in each one, I missed several of the key clues mentioned above. I need to spend some time studying both Maureen Taylor and Colleen Fitzpatrick‘s books on photographs to glean additional clues from each of the images. Many questions still remain: Who are the other young women? What school did they attend? Where was the picture taken? How was Halloween celebrated in the World War I era? Even with one simple image, the research is never done!

Revisiting Old Photographs

In my research, I came across an impressive collection of family photographs. Certainly a big find, and equally important, it offered me a new project! Many of the photographs were not labeled or identified, so as I scanned the collection, it was important to label everything as best I could, leaving many of the photos with a simple and unfortunate title – “Unknown.” In the field of family history research, is there a more frustrating word?

Once I finished scanning, I was excited to have crossed a project off my to-do list and anxious to start something new, so I never went back and really studied my “Unknown” images. So, I’ve started a new project and made it a point to go back and revisit those photos, and rename or relabel those individuals I can accordingly. There is never enough time in one night to go through the entire set, so I make an effort to do a reasonable number per night, perhaps 5 or 10 images. It will take me a while to go through the collection, but if I identify even a few ancestors in the photographs, it will have been worth it.

One of my ancestral re-discoveries is this gem of Sophus and Rose Hansen.

Sophus and Rose Hansen, August 1922.

Readers of this blog might remember the Hansen’s from the “Looks As If We Had a Fight Here” post. When I had first scanned this image, outside of the date, there were no identifying marks, so I was unable to determine who the couple was. Indeed, this was one of the first images I had worked with, so although not named in this particular image, they certainly were in different photographs far deeper into the pile. Only by going back and carefully reviewing those images, both the known and unknown, was I able to identify Sophus and Rose and extract them from my pile of Unknown’s.

I’ve been pleased with how many photographs I’ve now been able to identify at least one ancestor in the image. Clearly, something I should have done right away. A lesson learned!

“Looks As If We Had a Fight Here”

One of my all-time favorite family pictures is of my Grandma and Grandpa Alderson, sitting with all of their grandchildren, 5 of us at the time. Taken in the mid-1970′s, I was a young blond-haired toddler. Everyone in the picture, with one exception, has a look of absolute disgust, annoyance, and “I can’t believe I have to sit here for another picture.” My Grandma, on the other hand, looks as if she’d won the lottery, complete with a beaming million-dollar smile. Neither my brother or I remember the circumstances with that photo, but we both just love it.

I am reminded of that Alderson smile-fest when I look at another family gem, this one of a different line in the family. Sophus Hansen was born in Denmark in 1860, and after immigrating to the United States, settled in Chicago. He married Rose Grobner in 1895, and together, they lived at 7042 Kimbark Avenue in Chicago for nearly 50 years. Rose Grobner was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1878, and moved to Chicago with her family around 1890. Rose died in 1939, Sophus in 1945, and they are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Chicago.

This photo of Sophus and Rose Hansen was taken sometime in the late 1920′s. Their expressions are priceless, and reminiscent of the Alderson photo mentioned above.

Sophus and Rose Hansen, c. late 1920's.

To top it off, there is a caption written on the back of the photo: “Looks as if we had a fight here.” I love it! Based on their body language, Sophus did not fare well in the exchange with his beloved Rose, and she looks particularly delighted with the course of events. Perhaps he “can’t believe I have to sit here for another picture.”