Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Using Newspapers to Write a Book
In the midst of writing about newspaper research, I began reading Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman, an excellent demonstration of using contemporary newspapers in research.
Much of the author's information came from articles and advertisements in New York City newspapers between 1850 and 1920. If your family were European immigrants, lived in any large U.S. City or if you just like to eat you would find 97 Orchard interesting.
Ziegelman, a journalist not a genealogist, uses family research tools to portray five families living at 97 Orchard between 1870 and 1930. Nationalities include German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish. To flesh out the families she used census records, draft records, and vital records, published cookbooks, family photos and memorabilia, as well as newspapers.
Lucas Glockner came from Germany to New York in 1846. In 1850, he lived in a tenement with a wife and three children and described himself as a tailor. He prospered enough to buy a small piece of land and erect his own five-story tenement building at 97 Orchard in the 1860s with 350 square feet to a floor. Two apartments per floor each consisted of three very small rooms.
By 1880, Glockner at age 59 owned three buildings, had moved out of the tenement with a new young wife and told the census taker his occupation was "Gentleman." He was one of the fortunates for whom the American dream came true. His renters did not have life so easy.
Despite the availability of running water on the street since 1863, Lucas chose a single pump and a line of privies behind the building to serve as sanitary facilities. Water for the family cooking, laundry and bathing had to be lugged up stairwells. The ice box, invented in the early 1800s, was beyond reach of his poor tenement dwellers - the window sill or stairwell provided refrigeration in cooler months only.
Grocery shopping was necessary once or twice a day due to lack of refrigeration and lack of space for food storage. Every tenement had immigrant stores on the first floor and in each block a number of small groceries sold staples. The small grocers" income was largely from alcohol sales.
Several large public markets offered fish stalls, meat stalls, bakeries and produce stalls with nearly any grocery product imaginable at lower prices. Cheapest of all were the hundreds of push carts constantly moving through neighborhoods selling as little as one egg or half a turnip to the poor wife struggling to feed her family.
The book provides insight into what immigrants ate, how they obtained and prepared it, and how they lived day to day. A surprising amount of herbs and spices were available in markets 150 years ago and used by even the poorest housewives. Also surprising to me at least, was the wide availability of oysters served raw, stewed, fried, fricasseed, in cocktails or puddings and eaten by everyone from "society swells to poor working stiffs."
Neighborhood cafes began springing up in the 1850s, serving every type of ethnic food, soon drawing patrons from other neighborhoods. An entire meal could be had for five or ten cents. Many of the foods we eat routinely today came with European immigrants - think of pizza, hotdogs, hamburgers, sausage, corned beef and cabbage, etc.
In 1905, the block including 97 Orchard was the most densely populated in America with 2,223 residents. The twenty tiny apartments at number 97 were home to 111 persons. By 1930, 25 residents occupied only one third of the building despite the installation of cold running water in 1903 and electricity in the 1920s. The golden age of tenements had ended as immigration dried up.
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