1900: A Family in Place and Time


In his book Family, Ian Frazier begins by talking about where his family was at the beginning of the 20th century.  This is his first paragraph:

The twentieth century began on a Tuesday.  On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Ohio or Indiana.  Mr. and Mrs. Harry E. Frazier and their four children lived in Indianapolis, in a neighborhood of many vacant lots and telephone poles.  Mr. and Mrs. Louis W. Wickham and their three children and hired girl lived at 237 Benedict Avenue, Norwalk, Ohio.  The Reverend John Bachman and his wife and two daughters lived in New Knoxville, Ohio, where he was the pastor of the First German Reformed Church.  Mrs. Elizabeth C. Hursh and her three grown daughters and one son lived at 86 Greenfield Street, Tiffin, Ohio; her husband, Professor O.A.S. Hursh, lay in a nearby cemetery, beneath a $200 monument inscribed with a Latin quotation and the years, months, and days of his life.”

Frazier goes on to structure his excellent family history and memoir around this “origins” paragraph, weaving his family’s stories through the century that was to follow.  Frazier told this story in 367 pages of captivating writing.

When I read this book a couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to do this – set my family in place and time.  I didn’t realize until I tried it that 1900 would work as well for me as it did for Frazier. I don’t plan to write 367 pages about my family, but I can start by writing an “origins” paragraph about my family in 1900, as Frazier did:

The twentieth century began on a Tuesday.  On that day, all of my great-grandparents but one were living in Illinois, Oklahoma, or Texas.  Mr. and Mrs. Warner Lismond Arnold and their eight children (including their youngest son, my grandfather John Cecil Arnold) lived in Montebello Township, Hancock County, Illinois.  Mr. and Mrs. Howard P. Ellefritz and their two children (including their oldest daughter, my grandmother Orpha Lydia Ellefritz) (they would go on to have eight more children) lived just a few miles away, in Pilot Grove, Hancock County, Illinois.

Mrs. Franklin Anthis (Mattie) lived with her ten children (including her one-year-old daughter, my grandmother Susan Vernon Anthis) in Justice Precinct 7, Lee County, Texas; her husband Frank, who had been dead for just a little over a year, lay in Forest Grove Cemetery in Milam County, Texas, a few miles from the house where they all had lived.

And Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Calvin Workman, Sr., and their 12 children (including their youngest son, my grandfather Thomas Calvin Workman, Jr.), lived on a homestead in Bear Creek, Logan County, Oklahoma, that Tom had claimed in the Oklahoma Land Rush a decade earlier. 

In this book I intend to tell the story of these people at that time – ordinary families on the cusp of a new century.  As I began work on this book, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to have to deal with the event that is the bane of all genealogists, and particularly of genealogists who are trying to write about America in 1900:  the destruction of the 1890 federal census.