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!


The Meeting of the Minds

Growing up, I was fortunate – blessed, really – to have all 4 of my grandparents in my life. My brother and I have hundreds of memories shared with the Alderson’s and Rzepczynski’s, whether in New Buffalo, Kalamazoo, or at Gravel Lake. Yet despite all the time we spent with each set of grandparents, there were precious few moments or gatherings where all 4 of them were together. Of course, there certainly were those moments before I was born, but as a child, the idea that all 4 grandparents would be together was quite extraordinary and exciting. Whether a graduation party or the summer get-together at Gravel Lake, those shared family events were always memorable.

I have very few images of my 4 grandparents together as I knew them later in their lives, although I do have a few photos of them separately or as adults years before. Here is a fairly recent one with my two grandfathers:

William Alderson and Leo Rzepczynski, April 1995.

This meeting of the grandfatherly minds was in the spring of 1995, likely at my college graduation party; William Alderson is on the left, and Leo Rzepczynski on the right. This gathering represents one of the last family functions where all 4 of my grandparents were together; William Alderson died in December 1997, and Leo’s wife Stella passed away in January 1997.

As a youngster, I always eagerly anticipated having my two grandfathers together, as there was sure to be some raucous storytelling, the occasional expletive, and plenty of laughs. Yet with my two grandfathers, one story always stood out.

Back in the day, driving near or around Gravel Lake, one grandfather apparently cut off the other. A car horn blast by the innocent grandfather was answered by the other with the universal hand gesture. What makes that exchange so funny is that neither man realized who the other party was until later. I don’t recall much more about the exchange, but two things I remember vividly are the absolute delight in my Grandpa Alderson’s voice as he retold and relived the story, and my Grandpa Rzepczynski’s uproarious laughter at being “fingered” as the guilty party.

I think of that terrific story every time I see a photo of the two men together, and in this case, the family story is perhaps even better than the image itself.

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!

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.

A Dowagiac Interlude

Dowagiac is a small town in Cass County, Michigan in the southwest corner of the state. Located about 25 miles north of South Bend, Indiana, 90 miles east of Chicago, Illinois, and 45 miles southwest of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Dowagiac is perhaps best known as the home of the Round Oak Stove Company, a leading manufacturer of heating stoves in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

In my family, Dowagiac plays a brief but important role. After immigrating to the United States from Poland in 1909, Stanislaus (Stanley) Piotrowski settled in Chicago for a short time before relocating to Gary, Indiana. A butcher by trade, Stanley later married Wladyslawa (Winifred) Tobolska in April 1915 at St. Hedwig Church in Gary. Ten months later, a daughter, Stella, was born.

Some time between February 1916 and February 1917, Stanley and his family moved to Dowagiac. I’m still unclear on what brought the family there, but in February 1917, a son was born, John Albert Piotrowski. Tragically, John died of anemia a few months later at the family home at 201 Lagrange Street. Now a grocer, Stanley also became the president of the local branch of the Polish National Relief Committee. According to the 22 February 1917 edition of the Dowagiac Daily News, the group “reports a satisfactory collection of $51.10 which will be sent to the home office at Chicago for the relief of Polish sufferers in Poland.”

A second son, Francis John, was born in August 1918, and a few weeks later, Stanley registered for the World War I draft, listing the 201 Lagrange Street address as his residence. Here is a closeup image of the Lagrange Street area, as shown in the 1914 Standard Atlas of Cass County, Michigan.

Lagrange St., Dowagiac, from the 1914 Standard Atlas of Cass County, Michigan.

The Piotrowski house is located at the northeast corner of Cedar and Lagrange, Lot 51. Note how close the Round Oak Stove property is to the south. Today, the Lagrange Street property is a vacant lot.

By 1921, the Piotrowski’s had moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they remained for many years. Although Stanley’s time in Dowagiac was brief, no more than 5 of his 87 years were spent there, it was an important interlude for his family’s 50-year story yet to play in Kalamazoo. The Dowagiac interlude saw the birth of two sons, the death of one, a draft registration, and a businessman establish himself in the local community. Perhaps that qualifies as an act all its own.

William the Fisherman

As a child, visiting my grandparents in New Buffalo, Michigan was always something my brother and I looked forward to. Upon arrival, we would run straight to the family photo albums and peruse through the new pictures. My grandmother had the charming tendency to photograph every visitor and/or stranger, whether a carpet installer or grand-child, so there were always new photos to be had!

My brother and I would then spend a lot of time in the lower level of the house, away from our parents’ watchful eyes. Downstairs, now that was where the serious fun was – cards, TV, board games, and the like. In that same room were several paintings, including portraits of my grandparents and one of an unknown fisherman holding his catch of the day. As I got older and became more curious, I learned the fisherman was actually my great-grandfather, William Alderson, and the painting was based on a photograph taken at Gravel Lake, near Lawton, Michigan. Here is an image of the painting on the wall.

Painting of William Alderson, photo taken c. 1966

William Alderson was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in July 1894, joined the National Guard in 1917 and later served in France during World War I, and after returning to the United States, married Julia Kamp in November 1919. Their first child – William, my grandfather – was born in 1922 in Pittsburgh, and the family moved to Chicago soon thereafter. William – the fisherman – died in April 1951 and is buried in Bly Cemetery near Marcellus, Michigan, a short drive from Gravel Lake.

The fisherman painting clearly held a place of prominence at my grandparents’ house, and I regret not talking to my grandfather more about it and his family. Rather, his World War II stories were always more enthralling to me as a youngster.

One can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across an actual photograph of “the fisherman” during a visit with my great-aunt – a particularly gratifying find! Here is the actual photo of William Alderson, showing his catch of the day at Gravel Lake, taken c.1940.

William Alderson, c. 1940.

I’m no fisherman, but that’s an impressive catch….

“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.”