Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Searching for History Online

A Census Taker at Work in 1890
Visitors often ask how we know so much about the families who lived at 97 Orchard Street. It's a great question! If you've ever done genealogical research about your own family history, you know that there's a surprising amount of information on public record. The United States Census is of course an important resource for learning about population density, employment, and the ages and nationalities of specific families.

The first United States Census was taken in 1790. Before the contemporary practice of submitting census forms by mail, enumerators (or census takers) went door to door visiting families and collecting data.

Tenement Museum researchers draw information from a variety of resources: oral histories, libraries, and of course, the internet. Some of these resources are surprisingly accessible. is an online resource for genealogy with a massive number of documents, newspaper clippings, and even photographs available to the public. We recently found an 1880 census record for the Gumpertz family on this site. This is an interesting snapshot of the family during the time they lived 97 Orchard Street.

An 1880 Census
If you've taken our "Getting By" tour, you know that Nathalie Gumpertz raised her children alone after the dissapearance of her husband Julius in 1874. While her husband wasn't declared legally dead until much later, Nathalie already refers to herself as a widow in this census.

Detail of the Gumpertz Family Information

You might notice something else amiss: Nathalie's daughters, Olga and Nannie, are listed as "Ulka" and "Nancy", and the family's last name is spelled as "Gumbertz". Between language barriers and chaotic environments, information was often lost (or mixed-up) in translation, particularly for early censuses. Nonetheless, it's still an interesting glimpse of the Gumpertz family--check out your own family's history online. You might be surprised at what you find! 

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