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.

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….

Do You Know This Man?

We all have interesting photos in our collections, those images of the distant past where we have little to no idea about the who, what, when, where, or why.

Here is one of mine:

Who are we?

With no obvious identifying marks on the tintype, neither the man (nice mustache, by the way) nor the young girl are identified. Why is she so out of focus? What is she holding or leaning against? Perhaps she is his daughter?

The only information I have to work from is the image was mixed in amongst several other photos from my Russell and Everett lines, all dating from the families’ time in Toronto. This would also be the time period when the tintype was prevalent in photographic technology. A small lead, to be sure, but a lead nonetheless.

The girl could be my g-g grandmother, Mary Ann Everett, but it’s hard to say with any degree of certainty, as her face is so out of focus, and other images I have of her are as a much older woman. Could the man, then, be my g-g-g grandfather, still an unnamed and unidentified leaf on my family tree?

Ironically, the image above represents the oldest original document or image in my possession. My oldest family resource, and I know next to nothing about it!

 

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!

Russell: A Hat Above the Rest

You have one, probably more. We all do, even if we try and avoid it: the dreaded common surname. Oh, my family has Hansen, Parker, and Thomas – no Smith yet! – but the surname that really gives me a headache is (and no, it’s not Rzepczynski)………Russell.

My Russell of interest lived in Chicago roughly from the early 1900′s until the 1940′s. Do you know how many Russell’s are in Chicago then? Let me tell you – a lot. Despite my misfortune with a common surname in one of the biggest cities in the country, I am incredibly fortunate, because my ancestor has that fantastic gift that we all hope and pray for – a unique first and middle name.

Meet Fenton Harvey Russell, my great-grandfather. Born in Toronto in 1883, he immigrated to the United States in 1909, settling in Chicago. Here is Fenton in May 1919 at a local Chicago park.

Fenton H. Russell, Chicago, 1919.

I’d like to think he’s reading the sports page, dissecting the White Sox box score, or perhaps looking at the Marshall Field’s ad for men’s hats. Most images of Fenton that I have show him wearing some stylish hat, and this photograph is no exception; he certainly wears it well.

Fenton joined the Masonic fraternity soon after he arrived in Chicago (Garden City Lodge No. 141), trained as an architect by profession, and became a U.S. citizen in 1922. He died in 1947 and is buried in the family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Chicago.

Here is another picture of Fenton, taken while still a youngster in Toronto. His distinctive face really stands out, as does the nice hat. He wears the hat well here, too, even as a young boy. I love this picture, one of my favorites.

Fenton H. Russell, fashionable since 1883.

In my research on Fenton, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Despite living in one of the biggest cities in the United States, there is only one – and a stylish one, at that – Fenton Harvey Russell. If I ever need a reminder how challenging and frustrating those common surnames can be, I need to look no further than Fenton’s own parents – Henry and Mary Russell. Unique first names, they are not…..