Searching for Ancestors in City Directories

Scoville Institute, now Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois.

Scoville Institute, now Oak Park Public Library in Oak Park, Illinois.

Date night was a success!  My wife and I went for a wine tasting and dinner while my parents watched our son.  It was such a good idea that we decided we’re going to do that once every month going forward.  My wife made me promise I couldn’t talk about genealogy research on the dates though…

Over the weekend we went to see my sister’s school play, and had family over to visit the other two days.  The packed schedule continues.  Luckily, I’ve taken a break from running to heal up some nagging injuries, so I at least had a little spare time to do research.

This week I continued digitizing my hard copy notes and documents, and also began putting my lists of website resources in one categorized Excel file and in my Internet browser Favorites.  With all of the great resources I’ve been provided from my FTU classes and elsewhere, I need to have them all in one spot so I can easily search sites related to what I need to find.  For instance, if I need to search for newspapers, I should have all newspaper sites I can use listed in one place.

In addition to my goal of getting and staying organized, I came up with a new goal—to try to stay committed to researching one surname for a few weeks at a time.  I figure that will help me stay focused and make for better research gains than when I bounce from family to family.  So here goes week two of researching my Blake family.  Starting with my Great-grandfather Nelson, I searched www.newspaperarchive.com and found city listings and job postings he had placed in want ads in a local newspaper.  Nelson and his family lived in Oak Park, Ill., and changed addresses several times between 1910 and 1930.  He also was looking for work from 1910 to 1912.  His wanted ads said he would beat carpets, finish basements and complete numerous other odd jobs around the house.  After checking Wikipedia, I learned that “beating carpets” was the act of taking a carpet or rug outside, hanging it from a clothesline and beating the dirt and dust out of it with a tool made of wood.   These ads confirm my grandfather’s story of Nelson not being able to find work for a while.  I looked into the Oak Forest Infirmary where Nelson died, and learned that the patients there were sometimes buried in the local cemetery in unmarked graves.  Sounds like a future trip!

I investigated Nelson’s father Patrick a bit more as well, and found old Detroit City Directories online.  In 1852, he and his brother John were shoemakers.  Patrick, who was 19 at the time, lived in a house on Miami Street/Ave, while his brother lived in a boarding home run by a Mrs. L. Robinson.  In 1855, Patrick was still a shoemaker, but his brother John did not show up in the directory.  Patrick’s US Civil War Draft Registration Record says that he was a furniture dealer in 1863, so it looks like he tried his hand at a few different jobs before settling on being an undertaker, which he did from 1870 until just before his death.

Good finds for the week, and now I have some specific records I’d like to find and questions to answer.  I’d like to find Nelson’s birth certificate and investigate more about the hospital he was in and the cemetery he was buried in.  What happened to Nelson’s wife, Matilda, after he left? And for that matter, where was she from and where did they get married? I haven’t yet been able to find much on her other than when she and Nelson lived together.  For Patrick, did he really fight in a war, as the story I mentioned last week suggests? What happened to his mother and brothers? Hopefully over the next two weeks I can focus on resolving some of these questions and more!  Have a great week!


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Brian Parotto of Hampshire, Ill.


Here are some of the tools Brian is using to launch his genealogy education. Check them out:

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