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!

Michigan Masonic Deaths

Between Seeking Michigan (Deaths, 1897-1920) and FamilySearch, Michigan is fortunate to have a robust online presence for vital records research. Factoring in the many outstanding obituary indexes that also exist from across the state, including Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Saginaw, researchers have several fantastic online options when looking for a vital record date.

That being said, the post-1920’s are a particularly problematic era for online genealogy research here in Michigan. First, the statewide death records available at Seeking Michigan end with 1920 (with very few exceptions). Second, although many county-level death records have been indexed and are abstracted at FamilySearch in the database “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995,” the impressive holdings there are not statewide, and each county does not contain records during that entire two hundred year time period. Finally, although a number of local societies and county clerks’ have placed indexes to their local records online, including Genesee, Macomb, and Washtenaw, that number is still only a small percentage of the state. Thus, researchers are presented with a significant post-1920 online research gap.

Enter the Masons. Each and every year, dating well back into the 1800’s, the Grand Lodge of Michigan of Free & Accepted Masons held an annual meeting in the state to discuss lodge business, finances, news, and local activities. As with other large fraternal societies, such as the Grand Army of the Republic, a published proceeding documenting the annual state gathering soon appeared. Impressive runs of the annual Transactions of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan can be found onsite at several research libraries in the state, including the Library of Michigan and the Bentley Historical Library; digital copies of pre-copyrighted years can also be found online at the HathiTrust web site. Buried within each volume is an “In Memoriam” section, which identifies all of the known members of the Michigan masonic community that died in the previous calendar year. Granted, not everyone’s ancestors were Masons, but a significant number were, as the membership statistics would indicate; the 1936 statewide membership was over 123,000. The potential value of these volumes, particularly in the post-1920 time period, should be readily apparent.

However, the Memoriam section is often challenging for genealogists not familiar with their ancestors’ lodge name or number, as the decedent’s names are sorted by lodge number. With more than 500 lodges in existence across the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, scanning through each lodge’s entry represents a significant time commitment.

To make this important resource more accessible to researchers, I have compiled a master index of the deaths that appear in the volume(s), sorted by last name, and posted a PDF of the file here at my web site: genealogyKris. It is also accessible via the home page from the link along the top: “Mich. Masons: Deaths.” Researchers will find the decedent’s name, death date, lodge name, number, and location in Michigan, all important clues for finding obituaries, death records, and much more. Here is a sample entry:

Sample extractions from the Grand Lodge of MI Transactions.

Looking through the Bay City, Detroit, Flint, and Roscommon newspapers around the dates of death should quickly yield obituaries for the men listed in the sample image above.

To date, my site contains more than 2,000 extractions from the 1936 volume, which largely contains 1935 deaths. Additional volumes and years will be added regularly as they are input. Stay tuned!

Local Societies and Their Publications

With the explosion of digital content available at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other subscription sites, many researchers are left with the impression that an online query at those databases constitutes an “exhaustive” search. Clearly, that is not the case. Researchers that overlook local society publications, print or online, do so at their own peril.

One of my all-time favorite print resources is Hillsdale County Marriage Index: Hillsdale, Michigan, published by the Hillsdale County Genealogical Society. A two-volume set, one for brides and the other for grooms, the resource covers the years 1835-2000; a 2001-2005 supplement is also available. Here are a few entries from the book:

Hillsdale County Marriage Index: Hillsdale, Michigan (2001), p. 598.

Organized in 1835, Hillsdale County is located in southern Michigan on the border with Indiana and Ohio. This means that at the time this resource was published, it included every marriage recorded in the history of the county, a remarkable achievement. With each entry, researchers learn the name of the bride and groom, the year of marriage, and the appropriate liber and page number to be able to find a copy of the county marriage record. What a fantastic resource! I don’t have Hillsdale County ancestors, but I almost wish I did.

The real strength with this resource is the fact that it includes contemporary content, with marriages nearly up to the present day. The large subscription sites may have impressive collections of documents, but in many cases, they do not contain recent records like we see with this Hillsdale County example. We are fortunate here in Michigan, as other examples of local societies indexing their county’s vital records proliferate, including the Downriver Genealogical Society, Flint Genealogical Society, Huron Shores Genealogical Society, Genealogical Society of Monroe County, and a number of others. The critical point is that in many cases, the local society publications often include more recent genealogical information not readily available elsewhere.

One other important point with these society publications is that they often index the county-level records, which in Michigan is a different record than the state-level one; this is an important distinction, as each record set will have a unique citation and source information. I will explore the state vs. county conundrum in more detail in a future blog post.

To find these important society publications, be sure to visit the local society’s web site, the available titles for purchase are always listed. Research libraries, such as the Library of Michigan or the Allen County Public Library, also maintain impressive collections of local society publications.

For many years, local genealogical societies have worked tirelessly to index and make available the records for their respective community. Although more content continues to be placed online, it is important to remember that an overwhelming amount of information will still remain on the ground in courthouses, libraries, and archives. Researchers would be remiss to not utilize the local genealogical society and their publications catalog in the geographic area their family called home.

The Saloonkeeper in the Family

Many genealogists have “favorite” ancestors, those family members that capture our attention with an act of heroism, a heart-wrenching tragedy, a fascinating occupation, or perhaps just an interesting life. That favorite ancestor brings out something in each of us that inspires us, motivating us to learn more about their lives, the time period in which they lived, and the communities they called home.

As someone with an affinity for a good beer, I’ve always been drawn to Frederic Jarand, a saloonkeeper in western Illinois. Born in Gandersheim, Germany in 1825, Frederic Jarand immigrated to the United States in January 1848, arriving in New Orleans on the Campbell. Following a well-worn migration path, Frederic moved up the Mississipppi River and soon settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where he married Amelia Bergfeld in March 1850. The family moved across the Mississippi to Madison County, Illinois for a short time, where a second daughter – Amalia Christina Frederica – was born. In 1856, the family relocated again, this time to Quincy, Illinois, where they remained for many years. Nestled up to the Mississippi River, Quincy is located in western Illinois about 140 miles north of St. Louis and nearly 200 miles southwest of Chicago. A substantial German population lived in the “Gem City,” which no doubt played a role in the Jarand family settling there.

Over the next twenty five years, and at several different downtown locations, Jarand operated a saloon in the city. Following his death in April 1882, Frederic’s probate file includes an estate inventory, which offers an itemized listing of both his saloon and household. Here is an image from one of the pages, detailing several items from the saloon located at the northwest corner of Hampshire St. and N. 6th St. in Quincy.

Frederick Jarand, Estate Records, Box 411, Adams County (IL).

Detailing the beer glasses, tumblers, bar mirrors, tables, and other furnishings, the bar itself, and of course, the wine, whiskey, and other spirits, this estate inventory is one of my favorite documents, one of those “Eureka” moments we all strive for in our research.

Given this inventory, I have a priceless glimpse into Frederic’s saloon, the furnishings, and the equipment he used in the daily operations of his business. Despite the gratifying success with his estate file, I still have much to learn about Frederic Jarand, his town of Quincy, Illinois, and his full-of-spirits profession. That will no doubt cross my mind the next time I visit my local watering hole and order my favorite IPA.


Comparing 1940 with 1930: The Piotrowski’s

Like many of us, I dove right in last week with the release of the 1940 Census, and was excited to quickly find all four of my grandparents: two in Chicago, one in East Chicago, Indiana, and one in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In my family narrative, the 1940 census offers a glimpse into the dynamics of each of my grandparents’ lives, at an important threshold right before their marriages and the outbreak of World War II. Indeed, by the next census in 1950, each set of grandparents will have families of their own, extending the family tree to the next generation.

When I give programs on various genealogy subjects, I almost always use examples of Stanley Piotrowski, my great-grandfather. Not only did he lead an interesting life, but his genealogical paper trail is fascinating and provides a number of fantastic and instructional examples; comparing the Piotrowski’s of 1930 with the family of 1940 is one of those.

In 1930, Stanley and his wife lived on North Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan with their two children, Stella and Francis. Having moved to the city sometime in 1920 or 1921, Stanley worked as a baker and grocer and also became a leading member of the local lodge of the Polish National Alliance. Here is the family in the 1930 Census:

1930 Census, MI, Kalamazoo Co., Kalamazoo, ED-39-15, p. 9A.

Several things jump out with this example, but the most obvious is Stanley’s wife’s name. What is it? Why is it not listed? Her birth name is Wladyslawa (which may explain the enumerator’s reluctance to include it), but the Americanized name was Winifred, a much less challenging exercise. Had I been searching for just Winifred, I would not have had much luck, to say the least. This example illustrates that despite all the technological advances made in family history over the years, the records will only ever be as good as the information found in them. The real puzzler about this 1930 census page is that all of the other family data is accurate, including date of immigration and birthplace, but for whatever reason, the enumerator did not include Winifred’s name. Is there a story there? Did a neighbor provide the information? Perhaps one of the children? Did Stanley or Winifred, but then forget to give her name? Why is the name not listed? I will likely never know.

Moving forward to 1940, we find that not much has changed for the Piotrowski’s. They all still live at the same address on North Street in Kalamazoo, although Winifred is now identified by name; a pleasant change from the 1930 record! One clue not found, however, is the “x” next to the name showing which family member provided the information to the enumerator. That important mark can give the researcher an idea about the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the information. Given Winifred’s name gap in the 1930 census, I’m not entirely surprised there is no designated “x” with the 1940 record.

1940 Census, MI, Kalamazoo Co., Kalamazoo, ED 39-19, p. 6A.

This is the last census where the Piotrowski family appears together. Francis was killed during World War II, and Stella married in 1943 and started her own family shortly thereafter. Indeed, given the seismic worldwide impact of the coming Second World War, the 1940 Census offers a singular glimpse into thousands of families across the United States, the Piotrowski family included. Although the surviving family members remained in the Kalamazoo area for decades, that Piotrowski line was never all together again on a census page. All of us have similar family stories or tragedies, which makes our 1940 finds all the more compelling.

1940 vs. 1930: Census Release Day

Having been a local history and genealogy librarian for nearly a dozen years, I’ve now experienced “Census Release Day” on two occasions as a professional, first with the 1930 and now with the 1940. I’m not one to get caught up in the first-day mania, but I do get excited with all of the media attention the day brings to our field of study. Coupled with the success of the “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots” television series, genealogy and family history has never been as popular or as mainstream as it is today.

As that smiling face behind the reference desk that assists researchers in utilizing the resources, online tools, and various finding aids to locate their ancestors, I’m particularly interested in the first-day experience from the librarian’s perspective. In my experience here in Michigan, the difference between the 1930 census release day back in 2002 and the 1940 release this week is remarkable. I know it’s difficult (or painful) to remember, but life in 2002 didn’t include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, or “The Cloud.” Think of how quickly information (or misinformation) spreads in today’s world, whether it be new product launches, content updates, or hot topic news. Social media platforms and new technologies have transformed genealogy research in immeasurable ways; our online habits, research strategies, and information sharing today is so much more immediate, widespread, and sophisticated than in 2002. Of all the stories that the 1940 census will unlock for researchers, the most remarkable just might be how genealogists access and share information and how librarians manage those researchers’ immediate expectations.

Back in 2002, researchers arrived at the library looking for and expecting the 1930 census both on microfilm and online. The researcher’s realization that the data was often not immediately available, accessible, or indexed, due to server overload, data upload, or processing time, was sometimes difficult. I recall that Michigan was one of the earliest states put up online, yet many researchers still used the traditional access strategies brought via microfilm. As we progressed through the decade, however, fewer and fewer researchers utilized the films and instead relied solely on the subscription databases; online indexing, however frustrating, coupled with the lack of traditional indexes certainly accelerated this phenomenon.

Yesterday, a number of researchers visited the library looking for and expecting the 1940 census online; microfilm is an afterthought. Michigan may or may not be one of the earlier states put up online this time around, but researchers now will instinctively use online access via FamilySearch, Ancestry, and the National Archives. Today, researcher frustrations now center around overwhelmed servers, time delays with page loads, and unindexed content, not the absence of microfilm. Certainly, we have experienced a sea change in access and research expectations from one decade to the next.

Over the years, I’ve learned that being a reference librarian also means being a coach, friend, drill sergeant, therapist, handyman, and information guru. Teaching and guiding researchers of all levels in this age of instant access has been interesting, to say the least. Helping researchers understand that thousands – millions? – of genealogists just like them are also anxiously waiting to study those same images has forced me to demonstrate some of my hidden reference talents mentioned above.

I’m already looking forward to the limitless possibilities of the 1950 Census release-date on April 1, 2022. How different will genealogy research be then? Think of how our research has evolved in the last 10 years, or even the last 5 years. What an exciting time to be researching family history!