Previously I’ve written bits and pieces about my paternal grandmother’s mother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger. As the second-youngest of her siblings, most of the others were married and out of the house when she was coming of age. Dora, herself, relocated to Chicago to work as live-in household help.
The story I heard was that she worked for a family in Skokie (Niles Center), and that their last name was Kirsch. I haven’t been able to locate that family in a census. I don’t know when Dora might have arrived in Chicago to look for work. She and Ignatz Schweiger married 14 April 1885, so she would have stopped work around then.
I have found a Dora Harry in the 1880 census, listed in the Charles Nussbaumer household as a servant.¹ She was born in Wisconsin, with parents born in Germany, so it seemed a good fit to my great-grandmother. Her age was listed as 24, rather than the 22 I expected, but it’s possible she overstated her age to appear more mature and employable. Or perhaps her employers simply didn’t remember or care, and just took an educated guess.
That job position was a logical one for her to take. While the children (oldest one age 10) had all been born in Illinois, the husband and wife both had been born in Germany. Dora was born in Wisconsin, but her parents and half of her older siblings had also been born in Germany.
Even though I’ve never heard any specific story about Dora speaking German, it seems likely German was spoken at home, as well as in the highly-German community she was a part of. When she and Ignatz married, he’d been in the country only three years, so it’s possible the two of them spoke German—at least at the beginning of their courtship—though she might also have helped him improve his English.
I’m grateful to have the family lore about her spending time in household service. And I’m delighted I found her 1880 census record. Unfortunately, a census is just a snapshot, and no one in the family took the time to ask Dora more questions (more importantly, to write down her answers) of her life during this time. There are so many questions we can’t answer:
- How old was she when she started to hire out? She was 22 in 1880, but she could have been working in Chicago for 4 years, at that point, maybe longer.
- Which families did she work for? Where did they live? That would have had a huge impact on her ability to meet Ignatz, when he finally immigrated.
- How long did she work for each household?
- What were her duties? Childcare? Cleaning? Cooking? All of the above?
- How did Dora find the positions?
- Did a group of families send a recruiter to Wisconsin to find girls that way?
- Did they place ads in the Manitowoc paper? There was also a German-language paper in the area. Did they advertise in that?
- Did they place ads in the Chicago papers, which found their way up to Wisconsin?
- Some of her siblings moved to the Chicago area. Did they hear about jobs and let her know? Or other girls who had moved down there, earlier?
Any answers would be pure conjecture on my part. The last Illinois State Census was in 1865, so that’s of no help to me. City Directories might be useful, providing they listed household help. I’m not sure when Chicago started to publish directories. Those (if extant) might provide some informaton
I do have the Nussbaumers’s address in 1880: 59 North Clark Street, Chicago. That’s in Enumeration District 189. Where is that in relation to Glencoe, where Dora ends up when she marries Ignatz?
I looked it up on Google maps. Five blocks west of Millennium Park? Around the corner from the Picasso? That made no sense, until I remembered the great Chicago renumbering event of 1909. The 59 North Clark Street Dora knew is not the 59 North Clark of today.
To find that, one needs to find the book created in 1909 to do the address translation. Fortunately, one exists at the Chicago History Museum. Better still, it has been scanned and posted online. From that we learn the old 59 is now 430 North Clark.² That moves her at least north of the Chicago River, and puts her 5 blocks west of what will become the Wrigley Building. While it’s not a very residential area now, back then it’s more likely to have been.
Skokie (Niles Center), the location I’d heard about, is about 12 miles away from the supposed location of the Nussbaumer house. That’s a good ways away. Glencoe is even farther north. Another possibility is that their address was in a different “town” using a different numbering system. One of the reasons for the 1909 renumbering of the entire city was that by then, Chicago had absorbed a number of other towns, with duplicate street names, and conflicting numbering schemes. Addresses were a hot mess, so redoing the whole thing made sense.
However the census page DOES actually say “Chicago.” Not “Austin” or any of the other separate areas outside the city limits. So I tried to track down the description of the enumeration district boundaries, to be sure I was looking at the right area. It was way harder than I thought it would be! Finally on the Steve Morse site, I found it: “North by the south side of Illinois and Ohio sts, east by the west side of State st, south by the north side of River, west by the east side of Franklin st.”³ Yep, the green pin north of the river is right in the middle of that box, so it appears to be mapped correctly. (zoom in on the map above to see the Clark Street pins, better). The Nussbaumers were a long way from Skokie and Glencoe, so Dora must have changed employers after 1880, moving north, so she could eventually meet up with Ignatz.
Dora’s older brother, John, moved to the Glencoe area some time after November 1882 (youngest son’s birth in Wisconsin). That might have prompted her to relocate. Unfortunately, I find no entries for Dora, John, or Ignatz in the Chicago or Evanston city directories in the early 1880s. That search wasn’t exhaustive, but it certainly didn’t give me the information I hoped for!
A quick search for families name Kirsch in Niles Center, 1880, turned up some names, but mostly in Chicago. A couple were in Evanston, which would be nearby. Of course, since Dora was already in the Nussbaumer’s house that year, I won’t find her with the Kirsch family. It’s also possible that the Kirsch family hadn’t even arrived in the Chicago area by 1880. Or I could have an incorrect name.
This search for more information about Dora’s time in household service has been frustrating, and somewhat unsatisfying. I wish I could nail it down better, but lacking more details, I don’t see that happening. Still, I was able to track down a little bit more, have some thoughts for other resources to check, and a list of questions to ponder. One of them may spark another avenue of research.
¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Illinois, Cook, Chicago, e.d. 189; Page 432D (printed), 28 (written) ; dwelling number 91; family number 155; line 12; Chs. NUSSBAUMER household; accessed 31 October 2019. Dora HARRY, age 24; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 199; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).
²The Chicago Directory Company, Chicago History Museum: Building and House History: Address Conversion Guides (http://www.chsmedia.org/househistory/1909snc/start.pdf), Plan of Re-Numbering City of Chicago, PDF p. 29. 59 North Clark translates to 430 North Clark.
³Stephen P. Morse, One-Step Webpages: Unified 1880 Census ED Finder (https://stevemorse.org/ed/ed2.php?year=1880&state=IL&county=Cook&ed=Cook-189&keywords=), accessed 10 May 2020.