Thank God I was born in the 20th Century

I thank god every day for the fact that I was NOT born in the 1800’s (or before).  If there is one thing I can gain from my addiction to genealogy, it’s an appreciation for what I have in this lifetime.

My Top 10 Reasons for Why I am Grateful for being born in the 20th Century:

1.     Hair Dryers – oh boy would I be ugly without my hair dryer
2.     Air Conditioning – oh boy would I be crabby without air conditioning
3.     Indoor Plumbing – no explanation needed
4.     Planes, Trains and Automobiles – my other addiction is traveling.  I really don’t care where I go as long as I have a vacation in the works.  To think people never left their hometown is very sad to me.
5.     Drive Thru Fast Food – I love it that I never have to get out of my car to buy lunch.
6.     Pants – The outfits that women wore in the 1800’s were ridiculous.  Those poor women in humid Louisiana!
7.     Birth Control – sorry, but I’m not interested in having 16 children over a span of 20 years.  Throw in outhouses for when you feel ill, and I would have run away
8.     The Internet – it’s made searching for my ancestors a breeze
9.     Modern Medicine – How did they handle allergies to ragweed?  Sneeze all day for a month?
  1. Equal Rights – again, no explanation needed

Our trip to Ireland....


We just returned from our 1st ever trip to Ireland.  It was a long time coming as we’ve been planning on going for years, but this year finally was the year.  It was bittersweet, however, since our Irish Dad just passed away this past June.  He knew we had the trip planned and was very excited for us to be going, since he himself never got to travel there.

And, we felt our Dad lending his usual loving, helping hand in things the whole week.  For example…….

My sister missed her connecting flight in London, but by some miracle was able to get rebooked on another flight to Dublin, even though they told her that flight was sold out.  She was only  2 hours late in meeting me in Dublin…..thanks, Dad!

When we checked into the hotel, they had upgraded us to a Jr. Suite.  It was bigger and nicer than the 1st 4 places I lived in as a young, married person……thanks, Dad!

Her luggage was lost and the airline told her they had no record of it once she connected through Washington, DC.  All her research paperwork for our trip was in her luggage, as well as all her clothes and most importantly, her hair care products!  But, at 2 in the morning, she received a text from the airline saying her luggage had been found and was now at the front desk of our hotel….thanks, Dad!

The weather this past summer in Ireland has been a record year for rain, yet for the 6 days we were there, we only had ½ day of rain……thanks, Dad!

We easily found the church of some of our ancestors, which is still an active Catholic parish.  It was unlocked and when we walked in, there were bottles of holy water at the back of the church, as if they had been filled  and were just waiting for us to walk in and collect 2…….thanks, Dad!

One day, as we sat in our rental car at the side of the road, detoured by road construction and completely lost, a woman named Eva came walking down the road out of nowhere and guided us successfully around the road construction to the next town on our itinerary…..thanks, Dad!

Driving on the interstate in the middle of nowhere there suddenly appeared an unmanned tollbooth.  We dug through our belongings for Euro coins and came up with only $1.80.  Guess what the exact amount of money that was necessary at this tollbooth was?  You guessed it, $1.80.  Thanks, Dad!

A beautiful rainbow at the end of the day, which ended right at the edge of our hotel……thanks, Dad!


The whole country felt friendly and almost familiar to us.  Never once did we feel like strangers or outsiders.  We were welcomed everywhere we went and made several new friends.  I would urge anyone who has the least bit of Irish blood in his or her family tree to visit this country.  And even if you don’t, you should add visiting Ireland to your bucket list.

My sister and I flew from different parts of the U.S. to Ireland separately,  drove our own rental car (remember they drive on the wrong side of the road & on the wrong side of the car.  And, ok, my sister did all the driving!) planned our own itinerary, drank Hennessey, ate some pretty suspicious-looking food, picked hotels in towns we’ve never heard of and did this all on our own.  Some people think we were really brave for doing it this way………..

We’ll write about the differences of being brave today vs. being a brave Irish person way back when, in next month’s blog.   There’s NO comparison!






The Scary Side of Your Family Tree

For those of you that don’t quite share my addiction to family research, let me assure you that the emotional roller coaster ride I have been on in my quest to figure out where I came from has been amazing.  Yes, finding out my ancestors came over on the Mayflower is remarkable.  Or how about the fact that my ggg Grandfather was a Doctor that served in the Civil War.  I barely paid attention in history class and now I find myself to have an interest in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.  My dad would be so proud.

And if I go really far back in the family tree, I am actually related to Adam and Eve.  Yep, it’s true.
 
However, I say roller coaster because not every story is the happy awe-inspiring fairytale that you expect to get along the way.  Behind my fascination with genealogy are life-realities that can be a little frightening to face, much less talk about.  And I guarantee there is a story in your tree as well.

Imagine my fear when a cousin pointed out to me that in the 1880 census, my gg Irish Grandmother Ellen was listed as living at an Insane Retreat.  I think I stared at that one for several days, not fully understanding the word retreat.  Sounded like she was spending a day at the spa, but I’m pretty sure the word insane wasn’t going to lead to anything good.

My heart bleeds for her as I write this because nothing I uncovered was good news.  Of course, my obsession made me keep searching until I unearthed the full story.  That’s the least I could do for her. Give her life some dignity, and give me an understanding for what she endured. 

Is it fair to say that having 12 children could make you crazy?  I would say a big fat yes, considering I never attempted to have even 1.  Well, Ellen was a typical Irish Wife living with a typical Irish Husband following the traditions of the Catholic Church in Connecticut in the mid 1800’s.  Women must be subservient to their husbands, have sex for procreation only, and endure the racial stigma of being Irish in the US during that time.  Ellen was also very fertile, and had at least 12 children in a span of 20 years (from 1853 – 1873).  I believe there was also a 13th child born in the 1850’s that died without a trace.  In fact, her first 3 children (probably 4) died within 5 years of each other, and before the 1860 census was even taken.  By 1871, she had lost another daughter, and was pregnant again in 1873 at the age of approximately 44.  I’m exhausted for her.

I never did find Ellen again in any census record after 1880, yet she lived until 1916.  Oh god, where was she for 30+ years?  With the help of a knowledgeable genealogist from Connecticut, I found her 1880 record at the Connecticut Valley Hospital.  It didn’t tell me much other than confirming which hospital she went to.

Being pulled by the serious weight of curiosity for her life, I made a trip to the area in my search to find Ellen’s parents and siblings.  Instead, what I found were her probate records ordering her into the hospital in 1873 (the year of her last child’s birth).  That’s not what I came to find out, but it was the direction I was meant to go.  So I got in my car and drove down to the hospital, which still exists today. 


To say this hospital is a creepy place is being nice.  It sits atop a bluff, overlooking a river, with beautiful views.  There are a series of red brick buildings that clearly were built over 130 years ago.  And because of some upcoming renovations, many of the older buildings sit empty, abandoned and decrepit, broken windows and all.  


As creepy looking from the outside as this hospital was, the current administration was kind enough to humor me and dig into the archives for any records of Ellen’s visit in 1880.  I can honestly tell you that of all the “aha” moments I’ve had in my family research, I would have been fine without this one coming true.  

The medical records that showed up in my mailbox consisted of 13 years of doctor’s notes.  Amazing when you consider this was from 1873 thru 1886.  The records show that Ellen suffered from melancholy with a diagnosis that it was from having too many children.  I often wonder if maybe she didn’t want to have sex any more for fear of getting pregnant with #14.  So she used this as an excuse to get away?  That’s a dumb thought, but it would be very creative of her if true.

So what do I do now with this new-found information?  I use it to keep the fire under my feet to further my research into her lineage.  I still need to find her parents.  They are missing and buried in CT somewhere. I also need to find out where exactly in Ireland she was born.  Hopefully one day I can unlock her past.   

In conclusion, I am a passionate believer that Everyone needs to understand their roots so they can pass this knowledge onto their living descendants, warts and all.  We all have ancestors in our tree with a scary story that may include criminal behavior, divorce, abandonment, mental health issues, or worse.   But don’t turn your back on their lives, understand them and celebrate the fact that they gave you life.  We need to enjoy the fascination of discovering where we came from.  Bumpy ride and all.

The Importance of Researching Siblings


His name was Valentine, and he was the younger brother of my great-great grandmother Eliza.  Well, happy Valentine’s day to me because his death solved one of the weirdest mysteries in our family tree and ultimately found a missing loved one.  Ok, so it took me 2 years to figure it out, but my gut knew it all along, I was just slow in following thru. 

Let’s back up.  My gg grandfather Henry was born in the small town of Grombach, Baden, Germany in 1841.  I am fascinated by Henry.  He immigrated with his entire family and has been fairly easy to trace. I have a picture of him and will say he looks like a cocky, I mean confident, gg grandpa.  I guess you had to be confident when you are the type of person that would travel by wagon to the state of Nebraska in 1875, without a home, set up camp in a cave, and eventually become a wealthy farmer with hundreds of land acres at the time of his death in 1919.

But Henry had 2 wives.  It wasn’t until I uncovered a tattered letter from 1942, packed away in a box at my mother’s house, that I discovered my gg grandmother Eliza was actually Henry’s first wife who died at the young age of 24 in 1872.  My line wasn’t 2nd wife Margaret after all.  First wife Eliza was the mother of my great grandfather Fred.  In the letter, it told us where she was buried, along with a baby daughter that nobody knew about.   I reached out to the cemetery caretaker and he helped me locate the headstone, which my sister visited and photographed last year.




It turns out the cemetery is in this dinkly little Illinois town of maybe 400 people today, so probably 20 people 142 years ago.  Mystery solved, sort of.  I had Eliza down, now I began work on her mother Martha.  Crap, instant brick wall.

For almost 2 years, I searched for GGG Grandma Martha.  She was born in Missouri and lived most of her life there until I found her living as a widow with Eliza and Henry in the 1870 census, near the town of Eliza’s burial location in Illinois.  But I never found Martha again - ever.  I searched the 1880 census so many times it was almost ridiculous.  No death record on file at the archives dept for the state of Illinois.  I assumed she went back to the state of Missouri and where her 2 sons were living, but nothing.  So I started chasing everything I could think of including her son Valentine and another son George.  I also searched for their children, their children’s children, etc.  I chased what I think (but I’m not sure) are a few brothers, a probable father, and a couple sisters, but no luck.   I even called the caretaker of the Illinois cemetery back to ask if he had a record of Martha’s burial.  Nope.

Eventually, I obtained the death certificate for Martha’s youngest son Valentine in 1918.  Here’s where it gets weird.  Valentine died 47 years later in the same dinky little Illinois town that his sister is buried at, even though he lived all of his life in Missouri.  His death certificate said he had only been in town for 3 days, a coroner’s inquest was performed, and they could not determine cause of death.  

What’s that about?   I will secretly admit I feared maybe he suffered from dementia, went to the grave of his sister and took his life.  But I desperately hoped that maybe his mother Martha was actually buried there after all, and he was there to pay his respects. 

Here’s another fun fact - Valentine died on my birthday.  Maybe the universe was sending me a sign?   Keep digging, Ellen.

It finally dawned on me that even though Valentine wasn’t from this dinky town where he died, the suspicious nature of his death might lead to a newspaper article about the circumstances.

Ding Ding.   His death made 2 newspapers in the area.  It turns out he really was visiting his mother’s grave.  While trying to fix her broken headstone, he had what was most likely a stroke and fell over onto a pile of rocks.  His body wasn’t found for 24 hours. 

I’m sorry Uncle Valentine, but I will be forever grateful to your stroke.  Hallelujah, GGG Grandma Martha has been found.  Now if I could only figure out where Martha’s parents are.  The hunt truly never ends.



Don't be afraid of the cemetery.......












Have you ever just walked around a cemetery?  If not, you should!  And, no, we are not ghost busters, devil worshipers or into being scared silly. 


Here’s the thing; it will be what you make it.  For us, it’s almost always a peaceful, thought-provoking, spiritual, educational and beautiful place to wander about. 



Every year around my birthday, I go visit a friend who passed away shortly before his 40th birthday. I’m now well over 40.   Cemeteries also provide perspective…..lots and lots of perspective!  Suddenly, things like your slow internet connection or a long line at the grocery store seem relatively unimportant. 

The real estate for almost every cemetery we have been to, is usually the best in town, with the best views to boot.  Your relatives’ final resting place may have expansive ocean views and sweeping mountain views, or  even 360° city views. 

You can wander about and see actual pictures of the deceased (thank goodness for modern conveniences, i.e. hair dryers, curling irons, lip waxing, etc.), very interesting names, entry gates with incredibly ornate detail, decades- old magnificent shade trees, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you may even learn a little something from a headstone.  At one particular cemetery, we even saw a bullet hole shot straight into the face of the deceased, the picture of which was on the headstone.  What the heck is the story behind that?!

If you haven’t visited your relatives’ final resting place, get going!  Of course, it’s understandable if this is a hard thing emotionally for you to do, but it doesn’t have to be a sad, morose place to visit.  You can make your visit a happy and spiritual trip, believe it or not! Mother Nature is really the only thing that should keep you from visiting.


Where is  the most beautiful cemetery you have ever visited?  Share with us your stories.  And, a special shout out to anyone who can identify the cemetery in the picture at the top of this blog………


Ancestry Sisters












Why The Irish Drive Me Crazy, and Why I Love Them So Much (From a Genealogist’s perspective)




They Drive Me Crazy


  1. They were so NOT creative when naming their children.  The # of Irish families with children named Mary, John, Patrick, Margaret, and Michael makes searching for them often impossible.  Good luck finding the right John Driscoll from Cork Ireland in 1840 – there are only 100 of them to consider. 
  2. They can’t add.  Every single record from their past has a different year of birth.  Sometimes they get younger.  It’s quite maddening.  How is it possible that my gg grandfather was the same age in the 1850 census as he was in his 1848 passenger ship record?  Aaah, what’s a couple years??
  3. Sadly, the Irish Catholics were seriously discriminated against in the 1800’s.  Many US and Ireland records were sporadic because townspeople didn’t bother to record their vitals.
  4. Their poverty was epic.  The Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s took the lives of a large number of our ancestors.  How heartbreaking for a mother to lose half her family, like my great-great grandmother, who lost 5 of her 10 kids.
  5. The food is all about Potatoes.  My diet makes me think I am Italian.


Yet I Love them So Much


  1. They had a tradition of naming their first-born son after the paternal grandfather and the 2nd born son after the maternal grandfather.  This has been a huge help in figuring out the correct families.  For example, my gg grandfather was John O’Connor.  His first-born son was David, who died 5 years later.  Then he named his next son David.  That was my clue to know his father was David.  This led me to find 3 of John’s brothers in Massachusetts – all with first-born sons named David.  Currently, we have 10 David O’Connor’s in our tree just from this one branch.
  2. They were extremely loyal.  Family and friends lived together in packs making it very easy to locate loved ones.  Either by living in the same house or as next-door neighbors.  Fast forward to today.  Who wants to live next to their family? Anybody????
  3. Their bravery makes us proud.  They ultimately survived the Potato Famine, and crossed the ocean as stowage, all for the sake of finding a better life for their families, including me. 
  4. Their religious conviction leaves something to be desired in the 21st century.  That left us with a wealth of church records to hunt for including baptisms, marriages and burials.  Baptism records identify sponsors.  Sponsors were usually siblings, and siblings help us connect the dots to the correct family.
  5. They gave us beautiful redheads, porcelain skin, green eyes and lots o’luck.  For that, we thank you!!

 

Knight, Night and Nite....names that drive us crazy

For all you genealogists out there, I know you feel my pain when I talk about how census takers and/or the family speaking to the census takers,  drive us crazy with the misspellings of names.


Take for instance the last name Knight.  Seems simple enough, right?  In this day and age, yes.  Back in the day, no way.  I’ve seen it spelled so many different ways, I sometimes forget the correct way to spell it.  Was it the fault of the census taker and his/her lack of spelling education or lack of ability to hear, or the fault of the person speaking the last name?  Or…….did the person, who actually had this last name, know the correct spelling?   We will never know exactly  how it was delivered and received, but it remains a thorn in the side of all genealogists, trying to piece together a family tree.

Here’s another good one regarding the last name of Knight.  In my own personal family search, the last name currently is Knight, but this name was just arbitrarily and randomly changed from NITZ to KNIGHT, back around 1860 sometime.  Family members traveling away from Ohio and the Nitz family,   suddenly somewhere along that journey, changed the last name to Knight.  Was there a conversation in the covered wagon about how the last name Nitz (Nitze, Nits, Nitse…you get the point), reminded them of a bedbug?  Or, was the family fleeing the Nitz family and in a desperate attempt to be unreachable and never again found, just decide to change the last name?  And why Knight?  Because it’s noble?  Because it kind of sounds like Nitz and maybe a small child wouldn’t be so confused when Mom and Dad told them their last name is now different?  So many questions, and absolutely no knowledge of the answers, or will there ever be.   It’s all just speculation.  And, it drives us all crazy!

And then there’s the spelling, or more accurately, the misspellings of names.  Knight is Night is Nite and so on and so on.  Nitz is Nits is Nitse is Nitze and so on and so on.  When I came across the last name of another family member of Neighbors, I thought to myself “wow, it’s such a unique name it will for sure be easier to find records with this name!”  Oh boy, was I wrong!  Neighbors is Nabors is Naghbor and so on and so on!

And of course, there’s the issue of naming several of your kids the same name?  You rarely, if ever hear about a family in today’s world, naming more than one child the same name.  But back in the day, it happened all the time.  How many times have you seen a child born and named, only to pass away at an very young age, and then the parents’ next baby was named the exact name?  Crazy, right?  Or was it?  Did they do that to honor their now deceased child?  Or because they just really loved that name?  Or because that’s what everyone did back then?  Or because the slew of names available then were limited and  weren’t thought up like they are today, what with all the made up names and all.   Maybe we should be grateful for the simple names like Mary, Daniel, Ellen, etc.  Again, so many questions, and absolutely no knowledge of the answers!

It forces us (or me at least) to become creative, trying to put myself in these people’s shoes and figure out why and how.  How many different ways can I spell Knight, Nitz or Neighbors? 

I must confess, those census takers were much more creative than I am.

Stay patient, think outside the box and happy hunting! 

Feel free to share your crazy name stories with us!

Ancestry Sisters





A Chicago City Lamplighter in 1903


Charles Driscoll, the Young Lamplighter

  • The pay was lousy, and so were the hours.
  • We had to go out twice a day, once to light the lamps in the evening and then to put them out in the early morning.
  • I had as many as 120 lamps to light, and my pay was between $12 and $16 a month, which the boss gave to my mother.





One time it was 18 below zero for a full week. "I was bundled up as if I was going to the Klondike."  Charles Driscoll (1960)


Charles Driscoll, who was born in Chicago in 1891 and died in Florida in 1980, spent three or four of his teenage years as a lamplighter, working with gas streetlights on the west side of Chicago. His career was ended by his need for better paying work and also by the installation of electric lights. He tells of his experiences as a lamplighter in a recorded interview, which is available at the Chicago Historical Society library or at the University of Illinois (Springfield) in its Oral History collection.. The interview was conducted in 1973 by his nephew, Thomas Driscoll, of Peoria , IL. The drawing is reproduced by courtesy of the St. Petersburg, FL, Times, which published a story about Charles Driscoll in 1977, when he was living in Gulfport, FL. The drawing was made by Times artist Jack Barrett.
                                            

The Interview
     When Charles Driscoll gave this interview in Florida in June, 1973, he was 81 years old, but still active and vigorous. A widower without children, he had moved to Florida in 1969 with his brother, Edward, and Edward’s wife, Helen. Until then he had lived in Chicago, where he was born in 1891. Before he retired he did office work for several different employers, including the Continental Bank in the Loop and Harold Pitman Co., a producer of engraving supplies, in Cicero. During his lamplighting years he lived at 3006 W. Fillmore St., near the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento Blvd. The text of the interview has been lightly edited to eliminate duplication and enhance clarity.

Q. When were you a lamplighter in Chicago?
A. From 1903 to 1907.
Q. How old were you then?
A. I was between 12 and 15.
Q. How big an area did you have?
A. I had about half mile east and west and a quarter mile north and south.
Q. On what streets?
A. Madison, Monroe, Wilcox and Adams - north and south. And from Rockwell street to Sacramento avenue. On the west side of Chicago.
Q. How did you get a job like that?
A. The man I worked for was a friend of the alderman. And the alderman let out these contracts to fellows, and they would hire kids to light the lamps.
Q. Would you have asked him for a job?
A. No, he would come around the neighborhood to find kids maybe that had paper routes or something, who were out early in the morning, who were maybe working milk trucks or something like that, figuring that they wouldn't mind getting up early in the morning to put the lights out.
Q.You didn't have to be a good Democrat or Republican?
A. Oh, no. Politics had nothing to do with it.
Q. Did any of your brothers have a lamplighting job?
A. Yes, Pat, Frank and John. They were my older brothers. Frank lit about five years, that was the longest, and I lit about four and a half.
Q. Is that the way you talk of it - I lit for so many years?
A. Well, I'm talking about lighting and putting them out or extinguishing them. Lighting them and putting them out. That was the terms used.
Q. Did you take over the job from Frank?
A. Yes. Or if the boss had more lights and a bigger route, and some kids weren't reliable enough, he'd ask us if we'd take over that kid's route. And he'd let that kid go. He'd fire him. If we were good workers he'd always want to add on 30 to 40 more lamps, which meant a little more money.
Q. How much was your pay?
A. The highest was $16 a month, and the lowest was about $12.
Q. How many lamps would there have been on your route?
A. Well, the most lamps I lit was maybe 120, and the least number about 80.
Q. So it varied?
A. Yes. An 80 lamp route paid $12 a month, and 130 or 140 lamps $16. I never heard of anybody making more than that. That took care of lighting them and putting them out.
Q, How did that compare with other jobs, like a paper route? Did it pay better or about the same?
A. About the same, I would say.
Q. It wasn't an especially high-paying job then?
A. No, no. It was a very poor paying job. You had to pay for your own wicks that you burned in your torch, and you had to buy your own kerosene to put into your torch.
Q. Where did you get that stuff?
A. First, we started out by using that material that's used in mops, used to mop up floors and so on. Then we found out that that stuff wore out too fast. Then I used to buy the wicking at the Fair Store downtown in Chicago. We'd get wicks seven or eight inches long and get a little piece of piping from a hardware store and put that into your thing and screw into your torch. And that would make the light last a long time. Sometimes you wouldn't have to put a new wick in for six months. Just pull up the wicking every once in a while. You didn't have to have it up too much or it would burn the wicking out too quick.
Q. When you lit lamps was your torch burning all the time?
A. Yes. You had your torch burning all the time.
Q. And then how did you turn the gas jet on in the lamp?
A. There was a cross T up inside of the head in the lamp posts. Some of them were square and others had a round, more up-to-date, shade on them. But most of them were square. But they had a key in there. And you'd come along with your torch and you turned your key up there. And it'd go poof as soon as your light came in contact with the gas.
Q. In other words you'd turn it on and light it all in the same motion because your torch would be lit?
A. Yes, just like you were turning a key on your gas stove. And you'd get your torch up there and shove it up that way. And as soon as you did that the gas would come up the pipe and poof and light. And put it out in the morning you'd get your stick in there. You didn't have your lighted torch then. You had a stick. You'd come along in the morning and get ahold of this end of the key and push it up this way, and that'd shut the lamp off.Q. And then when did you have to light them, what time of day?
A. You had a timetable. And in the wintertime you had to be out at about a quarter to four, about 3:45 because you know it gets dark early in the winter. You had to be out on your route about 3:45 at the earliest. And you'd be through about 4:15 or 4:30, something like that. You weren't supposed to go out and light the lamps when the sun was shining. The sun was supposed to be down, almost all the way down.
Q. Otherwise you'd be wasting gas, right?
A. Yes. That's why you had the timetable. In the summertime the days were longer. Of course daylight saving wasn't known then. And in the summertime you'd go out as late as a quarter to seven at night, 6:45. That would be three hours later than the winter. That would be your earliest to go out. A quarter to seven, and get them out anywhere from 7:15 to 7:30 in the wintertime. And in the summertime you'd be out earlier in the morning to put them out. You went out at 3:30 in the morning. You leave the house about 3:30 in the morning in the summertime. In the wintertime you left about 5:30.
Q. How long would it take you to do the whole route?
A. From the time you leave the house and be back to your route, sometimes your route was anywhere from a half a mile to a mile away from your house. And by the time you got back you were gone from an hour and a half to two hours.
Q. Was the gas flame all that there was to provide the illumination?
A. Well at first, but they improved the lamps by putting the Welsbach mantles in them. But they were very delicate. You had to be very careful to put your stick up because if you were very rough at all you would break the mantle.
Q. Did the mantle give more light, was that the idea?
A. It was a much whiter light. Before that, when you had only the flame, it was a fiery color. Before the Welsbach came, you had different tips that went on the gas pipe. First they had a bone tip that went in, and then they came in with an aluminum tip. Then came the Welsbach mantles. And then, after that they put in the electric lights. That knocked the gas guys out of a job. Madison street was the first one to knock me out.
Q. What year was that?
A. Oh, that was 1903 of 1904, something like that. I was born in 1891 so nine more years would make it 1900, and I was lighting lamps when I was 12 years old or 11. So it was somewhere around 1903 or so, 1904, 1905, 1906.
Q. Were there a couple of lamps in every block, or just on every corner, or what?
A. On the corner and in the middle of the block. Say this is a street here. Here's a corner. There's a lamp here, and here's an alley going through here. At this alley here's another lamp. And then down here is another street and there's a lamp here. So there would be three -- corner here on this street, corner this street, and at the alley over here.  And then, in addition to lighting and putting the lamps out, I had to make a report of any broken glass in lamps. And in the wintertime they'd freeze. Frost would get down in those gas pipes and freeze them.
Q. What would you do then?
A. Pour alcohol down there.
Q. Did you do that?
A. No, the boss did. But he wanted me to carry the ladder around. Or if I didn't carry the ladder, to carry three- to a five-gallon can of alcohol with a little cup on it. And he'd put the ladder up the thing and I'd pour out the alcohol and he'd unscrew the cap of the lamp and pour the alcohol down it.
Q. What would that do?
A. Yes. If there was any ice down in that stem, why it will thaw it out. Sometimes the lamp didn't thaw out the first day. Sometimes it'd take two days before that alcohol took effect. And you'd be surprised. You'd go along there the next night, sticking your torch up. No light. And then all of a sudden you'd go along some night and touch it and whoof! One time the whole thing blew up. It was an eruption. There was a leak somewhere. The whole top blew off.
Q.The glass and everything broke?
A. Blew the whole top of the lamp off. Once there was some tomboy girl who wanted to around the route with me  -- Liz Kelly. And the first lamp was like in the middle of the block, like in an alley. I gave her the torch. I said, "All right, there's the lamp." She said she knew how to light lamps. It was one of those lamps; she stuck the torch and the explosion blew up the lamp. She dropped the torch and ran home. That was the last I saw of her.
Q. Would you ever miss a day of lamplighting? I mean, you'd have to light every day of the week, right?
A. Yes, every day.
Q. What happened if you were sick?
A. You had to get your brother, if you had a brother who knew something about it, or report it to the boss. He'd have to go out and hire somebody. Every kid didn't know how to light lamps. But the boss was supposed to know something about it. Some of them didn't know a damn thing.
Q. They were just political appointees?
A. Sure. It would be nothing for those guys to get two or three hundred dollars from the city hall, from the alderman, and they'd pay us kids anywhere from 12 to 16 dollars a month, and the rest was shoved in their pocket. The city supplied them with glass, but they'd have to install it in the broken lamps. And they supplied them with the alcohol to thaw the lamps out. That's about the extent. They were supposed to go around and clean the windows.
Q. What else do you remember happening?
A. Drunks would be out in the morning, especially on Saturday night or Sunday morning. They'd be walking home with their girls, and you would be putting the light out, and they'd say, "Don't put that light out." Otherwise, they'd say, they couldn't find their way home. "If you put that light out we'll get you." I put it out anyhow. Some of them were too drunk to chase you.
Q. What about bullies? Any other kids picking on you?
A. No, no. Nothing like that. Nobody was out that early in the morning.
Q. But what about in the afternoon when you were lighting?
A. No, nobody. Lots of the kids would like for you to let them take a torch and light a lamp. That'd satisfy them. That was great to have the honor of sticking a torch up there to light a lamp. But the people all along the route would speak to you. Many a time a person would ask me to come up on their porch and have a big glass of lemonade or some homemade root beer or something like that.
Q. Were there streetcars running in those days?
A. Yes, there were. In the early morning hours they had horses pulling the streetcars. Horses. Until five o'clock in the morning. And then the cable cars came on.
Q. Did you ride any of them?
A. Sometimes in the wintertime. I'd get in there. They had hay. The motorman would be driving those teams of horses, and they had hay on the floor. I'd go get on the back end and sit down and ride a half a mile on the thing, riding home. That was on Madison street. That's the only street that had cable cars or the horse cars.
Q. What else do you remember?
A. Oh, there were lots of stories connected with the lamplighters. I was putting out one of my last lamps one time when a picture frame factory on Polk Street and Washington Avenue caught fire. The whole roof exploded. Boy! A saloon keeper on the corner came out in his pajamas. "What was that?" he said. I said, "The picture frame factory; the whole roof exploded." It was a half hour before the first fire department came. I stayed around there for a while. I had to get back and get some sleep. I had to go to school.
Q. Oh, so you went home and went back to bed?
A. Yes. It was kind of hard getting up early in the morning at three o'clock, three thirty.
Q. Did you have your own alarm clock?
A. No, my mother was the alarm clock. She had the clock. Otherwise we'd never get up. She used to say that she was the alarm clock. I remember my father saying he wouldn't get up for any amount of money. She said, "Well, that's the difference between you and me." She said, "You'll never have the debt paid off on the house if I don't have the boys out lighting lamps."
Q. So she got the money you were paid?
A. Yes, the fellow we worked for, he wouldn't give it to us. He'd come to the house and give the money to my mother.
Q. It was a hard job, wasn't it?
A. Well, especially the hours, the business of getting up at 3:30 or so. You don't have to get up that early with a paper route. And of course you have to do it every day of the week. And go out twice a day. It didn't make any difference whether the temperature was 99 or 100; you had to get out and light the lamps that night. And I had one week when it was 18 below zero for a full week.
Q. And did you walk your route even then?
A. Sure. I would be bundled up as if I was going to the Klondike. I'd have paper lined around my stockings, and then I had Russian boots on and underwear. Maybe two sets of underwear. Heavy corduroy pants, two pairs of mitts, a stocking cap, scarfs, mufflers. My mother fixed up a fascinator under my mouth. It just fit under your nose. And then the steam from your mouth would come out there and come up in your eyes and form icicles on your eyelashes.
Q. What caused you to give up lamplighting?
A. They put in electricity. It ran us out of business. It started on Madison street and then came to Monroe. And then one by one about every six months. First they put the poles in, see, and then they wouldn't be connected for three or four months. Madison was a very principal street, so naturally it was first. Then they got the other main streets like Kedzie, Halsted and so on. They were all electrified. And that was the end of lamplighting.


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