Friday, August 31, 2012

Another piece (or two) of the puzzle

At a Swedish family tree website I joined recently, this week they were offering free access to old American population censuses. I took the opportunity to search in the census from 1910 for my grandmother’s two half-siblings Gerda and Gustaf, who emigrated to the States in 1902. (They were both still living there in 1910, but moved back to Sweden a few years later.)

I knew Gerda lived in Chicago and worked as a servant; and in spite of her surname being slightly misinterpreted when transferred from the handwritten records (Ekman read as Elman), I managed to find her (I’m pretty sure) in the household of a physician Otto L Schmidt and family. Otto and his wife (of German descent but both of them born in the US) had three teenage children in 1910, and besides Gerda two more female servants (from Austria), one male servant (from Germany) and a chauffeur whose Colour or Race is given as “mu” (which I take to mean mulatto). The chauffeur’s wife (likwise “mu”) and their two children were also counted as belonging to the Schmidt household.

USAsfederalafolkrkningfrn1910_307024[2]

Gustaf I knew lived in Galeton, Pennsylvania. My first searches on his name gave no result, but after a bit of lateral thinking I managed to find him under the name of “Gust Ekmann” (the first name shortened and an extra n added to the surname). His occupation was “yardman” at the sawmill, and he was boarder to the borough’s tax collector, a Mr Near (and family); together with ten other workers also connected to the sawmill industry.

I’m not sure what a “yardman” did but three of his fellow boarders had the same title. I guess it must have included loading and various outdoors jobs. Two other boarders worked at a kindling factory; no doubt a spin-off business from the sawmill.  And two had the intriguing occupation “fireman/stationary”. At first I thought of firemen as in putting out fires, but it didn’t quite make sense that several people in a rather small community would have had that as sole occupation back in 1910. After snooping around a bit on the internet, I find it more likely that their job was to feed the stationary steam engines at the mill.

There is a lumber museum at Galeton, and I guess the map of their premises gives an idea what it may have looked like back in the days when Gustaf worked there. (Click on the map to visit the museum website.)

LumberMuseumMap7

I did a similar post at my Greetings from the Past blog (my bi-lingual family history blog) but I decided to put some of my thoughts down here as well. One of the fascinating aspects that is growing on me is that a census like this goes beyond the boundaries of family and shows other social contexts as well.

It makes my head spin to think that behind every one of all those names is a person with a life story of their own. Can’t you just imagine an Upstairs Downstairs kind of story based on that Chicago household; or a pioneer one with timber rafting and competition between sawmills? ;)

9 comments:

  1. Each and every one of them deserves a closer look, and could easily be turned into a novel - so fascinating!

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    1. Yes, looking at these old documents I get the feeling of lots and lots of ideas for great novels just waiting to be picked up... I'm not so sure about the "easily" though ;)

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  2. my husband is from PA but doesn't recognize the town. i looked on the map and it is only about 100 miles from where he lived. interesting story, and now we know what a stationary fireman is.

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    1. There were nearly four times as many people living in Galeton back in 1910 as there are now! (according to Wikipedia) 4027 in 1910. 1149 in 2010.

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  3. I've discovered numerous spelling changes in family names as I've done my genealogy research. And in the case of my husband's family, the face that they're Spanish and historically incorporated their mother's maiden name into their surname has made searching interesting to say the least.

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    1. I can imagine! If I had not already been pretty sure about where in the US these two relatives lived in 1910 (and also roughly what kind of jobs they had) I would probably have given up, or wouldn't have been sure I'd found the right person.

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  4. Hello:
    How absolutely intriguing all of this is and to have had free access to a website to assist in locating some of your ancestors is, indeed, a bonus. As you say, it is fascinating to think that all of these people had their own lives with their own stories to tell. However, even with the aid of the internet, it is not always easy to trace people.

    As it happens we are the only people in the whole of the United Kingdom with our name, but we live in Hungary!! We have discovered your most interesting blog through Meike, and are signing ourselves as Followers.

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    1. Nice to "meet" you, Jane and Lance, and thanks for signing up to follow. I've just been over to have a look at your blog too.

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Communication is what makes blogging fun :)

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