Your Quick Tips, 12 January 2009

Book Review on Nineteenth Century City Life
Have you ever wondered what life was really like for your ancestors? If they were working class people in an American city in the nineteenth century, the book Challenging Chicago, by Perry Duis (University of Chicago Press, 1992) will reveal how hard the business of everyday life was for them. For example, we all know that the horse provided transportation for people and goods. The movies give us romantic images of horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping cheerfully along the street. But Duis describes what that meant in real life–streets covered with a semi-frozen slush of manure and snow in winter, muddy manure oozing between the pavestones in spring, and stingy, smelly brown dust covering everything in summer. But people could no more do without horses than we can without the internal combustion engine. A nationwide equine flu epidemic in 1872 killed half the horses, bringing factories to a halt, leaving produce rotting in rail cars, and ushering in an economic panic that lasted two years.

As its title suggests, the book is about Chicago, but in many ways, it paints a portrait of any large city at that time. It covers topics such as housing, work, transportation and food. It describes the shopping options for an urban housewife and the enterprising people who created the “curbstone economy,” buying goods wholesale and selling them to individuals on street corners or door-to-door.

Duis is more historian than popular writer, but his prose is clear and engaging, and he peppers the pages with quotes from writers of the time. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about urban life in the “good old days.”

Linda Kush
Boston, Massachusetts

Online Obituary Guest Books
Recently I signed the online obituary “Guest Book” on the website of a hometown newspaper for a recently deceased relative. I marked it “Could be contacted,” and as a result I heard from one of my mothers’ cousins, and in turn was able to put him in contact with my mother’s sister. Long-range plans have been made for the three of us to get together, and I’m hopeful that it will help me to add to my family tree for all the relatives.


Name Variants
It has been mentioned hundreds of times, but it bears repeating…be sure to use any and all spelling combinations you can think of. While searching land records for my mother-in-law’s ancestors, circa 1850, in one Ohio county, I was searching for the Altweis family. I found the name written as Altwies, Altwise, Altwis, Altveis, and Alweis, among others.

Jenifer Herman

If you have a suggestion you would like to share with other researchers, send it to: . Thanks to all of this week’s contributors!

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