Archive for the ‘Pastmapper’ Category

By now, a lot of people are aware of NYPL’s fantastic digital GIS tool, Mapwarper. It enables users to create overlays with any map in their digital collection. Mapwarper has made NYPL’s geographic resources available to the public in such a way that makes them more meaningful, but it’s not the only, free-of-charge, online GIS program of its kind. In my research, I’ve explored a few others that are equally user-friendly and give you slightly different abilities, allowing you to exploit a more diverse range of resources.


NYPL’s Beta version of the Mapwarper

Something that many people don’t know is that the Beta version of NYPL’s Mapwarper is actually still available and allows you to do one thing that the official version does not: upload and georectify maps and images that are not in the NYPL digital collection.


Downloadable Hi-Res map of New York Bay and Harbor (1903) from NOAA’s Historic Chart and Map Collection

While NYPL is a vast repository of geographic materials, there are other libraries and archives out there that house different and sometimes unique maps that a person may find more useful than what NYPL has to offer in their digital gallery. Some examples would be the Library of Congress’ Map Collection or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Historical Map and Chart Collection. These are two repositories that allow users to search for and download high resolution files of historic maps. By going to www.mapwarper.net, instead of http://maps.nypl.org/warper, you can  upload and georectify these files. And if you feel like getting creative, you can georectify literally any image file you upload, regardless of whether or not it is a map. Comme ca:


British Headquarters Map of Manhattan Island (1782) on The David Rumsey Map Collection Website.


Georectifying the Headquarters Map, using Georeferencer.org.

Mapwarper Beta is great for manipulating and exploring those maps you are able to download. Some digital repositories however, will allow you to look at hi-res images on their site, but have included protections so that you can’t actually download them. Gallery sales and exhibition websites, like the David Rumsey Map Collection, frequently have zoom functions to get you right up close to examine map details, but only display a small portion of the hi-res image at a time. However, there is another online program called Georeferencer that enables people to use these maps without downloading/uploading the file, using only the map’s URL. Copy and paste the link to the map into the “Georeference” field on the homepage and click “Georeference.” The hi-res data that was only available in a small box on the Gallery site, is now available as an entire image on the Georeferencer site.


British Headquarters Map overlay created in Georeferencer.org. View is from approximately W. 3rd to W. 20th Streets.

The process of adding reference points to maps and creating overlays with either of these programs is so simple that any attempt to explain it here would likely be more complicated than it should be and probably result in unnecessary confusion. It’s really as easy as clicking on the same location on two maps. It’s best to just play around with it and explore it yourself. By incorporating these other GIS programs into your research, you are able to bring in a much wider variety of resources that may otherwise have been left unexplored, and you can see what the Village was before it was the Village.


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by Stephanie Krom, Kerry Heimer, and Salome Jeronimo

The PastMapper platform that Brad Thompson has created for the 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 census data of West 9th Street in Greenwich Village is visually quite different from the prototype map he created compiling the city directory entries of San Francisco from 1852-1853.  The San Francisco city directory map displays data through the use of colored markers distinguishing between residential and business locations.  The West 9th Street census data map, on the other hand, with most if not all entries being residential, simply offers outlines of each building structure. The only color difference on the West 9th Street map comes from the different decades that are represented on the block.

When clicking on the colored markers in San Francisco, a small pop-up appears offering the address of the particular location along with the name of the resident or business present there in 1852-1853.  The West 9th Street data shows a progression in the platform, including the race, sex, age, and occupations of the recorded residents.  This inclusion of additional information offers a more complete and useful representation of the individuals living in the area, as well as the changing social and architectural landscape over time.


Sister buildings The Hampshire and The Portsmouth.

Of particular interest, and something not included in the San Francisco data, is the information specific to the buildings that is offered for West 9th Street.  When clicked on, each listing provides the name of the building, the year it was built, the names of the builders and architects, and the list of residents. Knowing the date of the building’s erection and name of the architect is a particularly useful tool in finding out which buildings still stand today. For example, The Portsmouth is a building at 38-40 West 9th Street that was built in 1882 by architect Ralph Townsend in the Queen Anne style that was popular in America during the late nineteenth century. Today, the Portsmouth remains an apartment building on this scenic block in the Greenwich Village Historic District. PastMapper offers that, in 1910, a few decades after the Portsmouth was built, the building was home to at least sixty residents, ranging from white nuclear families with no servants to larger white families with several live-in servants. The professions listed for many of the 1910 residents of The Portsmouth, including lawyer, physician, and engineer, and the presence of many servants within the building indicate that the primary families in this building during the early-twentieth century were of the upper classes of New York society. This information is interesting particularly when compared to the people who live in The Portsmouth today. In many ways, the people of The Portsmouth have stayed the same – although there are no more “servants,” the families of The Portsmouth are certainly of the upper class. A three-bedroom apartment in The Portsmouth recently sold for $1,800,000.

W9th PastMapper

The real estate listing for unit 10 of The Portsmouth, which sold for $1.8 mil.
Courtesy Douglas Elliman

Another building constructed by Ralph Townsend in the 1880s was The Hampshire, located at 46-50 West 9th St between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, just one building away from The Portsmouth. The Hampshire is described as a Victorian style apartment building with terra cotta spandrels.  Interestingly, the building was once the home of novelist Dawn Powell.  The building is still an apartment building and is labeled as a Co-Op. At the time of the 1920s census, the flats on West 9th Street were occupied by upper-class working professionals.  Some of the census participants in The Hampshire listed their occupations as “nurse,” “broker,” “judge,”  and “editor.” According to current apartment listings, the average apartment in Greenwich Village is around 2.2 million dollars.  A one bedroom apartment in the Hampshire is currently listed at 1.1 million dollars. A one-bedroom apartment in this building sold in 2011 for $990,000.


A real estate listing for an apartment in The Hampshire that sold for $990,000.
Courtesy Trulia.

This Greenwich Village census data project offers an indication of PastMapper’s ongoing and potential development as a resource for historical research. The use of the PastMapper platform as a tool for real estate history research may indicate that, in the future, PastMapper will be used by a variety of users, from scholars to apartment-hunters.

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The Pastmapper platform on West 9th Street is intended to show the development of community from 1880-1940. Students in the Creating Digital History graduate class in the Archives and Public History program at NYU were tasked with entering census data from the respective years, which was then imported to Pastmapper for an interactive data visualization. By tracking the families and individuals in each building, and plotting that data against the 2012 maps, we should be able to see how the incomes, ethnicities and family groups changed over time.

While the project is interesting, and the idea behind the platform could be very successful, the reality of the West 9th Street visualization does not reflect all of the possibilities that the platform promises or we saw in the data that was entered for 1940. The visualization for W. 9th Street is at first difficult to navigate. While there are checkboxes for the user to choose one particular decade or several at a time, the actual data that pops up does not always correspond to the user request. When you click on a particular building, it is difficult to predict which decade will pop up, but it is not consistent across buildings and there is no option to show all of the data. In order to get the data that you are looking for, you need to limit by the exact year that you want and then look at each building individually. On the 1940 visualization, there are not visible outlines for the building, so while we knew where to look because of our interaction with the data, a new user would probably not find any information at all.

One of the main problems with the data and visualization as it stands is the sheer volume. There are, on average, over 500 census entries per decade. The interface does not handle this volume well, and it comes across as messy and unorganized. There is no way, at present, to track a single person or family across several decades, without scrolling through all the records presented by hand. There is no way to group family units, the records only show by the individual.


When we entered the data, we noticed lots of really interesting trends that we were curious to see compared to the 1930 census in particular. The 1940 census had a question asking if the individual was living in the same house in 1935, in almost all cases they responded yes. We were very interested to see how this corresponded to earlier decades, and if we could trace an individual or family from one census to the next. The 1940 census also recorded, and we correspondingly entered, data on the financial situation of each household. If this data could be part of the pastmapper platform, it would show  a lot of development in the area and point to economic differences among neighbors that are really interesting. Because all of this data was entered, if it can be incorporated into the visualization it would deepen the user experience.

Pastmapper, as an online platform for mapping and visualizing data, has the ability and potential to be an informative and engaging way for users of all types to interact with that data. At present, the display for W. 9th Street does not live up to the possibilities of the site. We hope this project forms a foundation for future digital history students to build upon and improve the interface

-Alison Lotto and Christina Bell

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Rachel Corbman, Nicole Greenhouse, Jennifer Joyce

Openness and collaboration are routinely cited as the key values of the Digital Humanities (DH) community. A recent example of a project that aimed to put these ideals into practice is Brad Thompson’s team up with the graduate students in Cathy Hajo’s “Creating Digital History” course in order to construct an interactive visualization of a block in Greenwich Village. A seemingly unlikely collaboration, Brad Thompson graduated from the University of Texas- Austin in 2001 with a BS in Advertising. After holding corporate jobs in marketing and business development for a decade, Thompson decided combine his technical know-how with his passion for history by developing an innovative new platform known as Pastmapper.

Launched in December 2011, Thompson describes Pathmapper as “platform for organizing data using the visual language of online maps to describe the world of the past.” The prototype of this platform takes San Francisco (Thompson’s home since 2005) as its subject and layers census data onto a historical maps in order to represent San Francisco as it was in 1853, 1914, and today.

Similar in design, the “Mapping 60 years of Greenwich Village” project has the ambitious end goal of placing detailed data from five federal censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940) onto historically accurate maps for the corresponding year. For now, Thompson is working with Cathy Hajo’s and her students to render 9th street, “a one-block thoroughfare in the heart of a vibrant and old neighborhood in Manhattan.”

In keeping with the overarching theme of Professor Hajo’s course, this collaboration offered students the unique opportunity to contribute to a larger DH initiative that also dovetailed with their individually designed digital projects on Greenwich Village history. To complete this work, the class divided itself into six groups representing each of the censuses between 1880-1940. (In case that math isn’t adding up for you, it’s worth mentioning that much of the 1890 census was destroyed in a 1921 fire.) Each group was responsible for transcribing data from their census into an excel sheet. The fields of data that were culled from each census included: street name, house number, name, race/color, sex, occupation, industry, school attendance, literacy, able to write, place of birth, father’s place of birth, mother’s place of birth, year immigrated to US, owns or rents, and speaks English. After this task was completed, group members were asked to collaborate on a series of blog posts to promote Pastmapper’s Greenwich Village project and as a platform to share their experiences, positive or otherwise.

As a group, those of us responsible for the 1900 census have generally favorable feedback to report. Our major source of ambivalence was the inevitably time consuming nature of the data entry. However, we felt this to be justified both in terms of Pastmapper’s larger objective and also because the data entry proved to be informative within itself. As we entered line after line of data, we watched the 1900 census transform from a stale bureaucratic document to a multilayered imagining of life on 9th street at the turn of the century. We hope the “Mapping 60 years of Greenwich Village” project, once completed, will be similarly engaging for others in the DH community and more casual browsers alike.

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By Meg Leddy and Maggie Lee


The alpha launch of Pastmapper provides a visualization (via digital mapping) of San Francisco census data from the years 1853, 1914, and 2012. This prototype highlights Pastmapper’s potential as a useful tool for teaching and learning, but ultimately raises questions concerning the platform’s usefulness in more serious scholarly endeavors.

A relatively new initiative in the digital humanities, Pastmapper structures and accumulates historical data through a series of layered maps. Easily recognizable to anyone who has used programs like google maps, Pastmapper’s basic interface is accessible and familiar. The first time user is met with a basic maps screen populated by small color-coded dots. Once clicked, the dots reveal specific information either about a person or a business connected with that location at a certain point in history. For example, we were able to discover that a clerk named E.M Cottrell lived on 17 Clay Street, right near the Central Wharf in 1853.

But the real appeal of Pastmapper is in the small navigation tool on the right hand side of the web page, which allows the user to see the same urban geography transformed by the passage of time. Those interested in San Francisco history might find it fascinating to discover that what was once the Central Wharf is now the San Francisco Ferry Building. Users can easily access the scroll to zoom tool in order to gain more precise access to streets and neighborhoods. The patterns and accumulations of dots provide fascinating visual insight into population and structural density, certainly interesting for any student of urban history. Although more graphic visualizations (perhaps images or photographs?) would add to the website’s dynamism, Pastmapper’s ability to accumulate and communicate large-scale trends in statistical data suggest its vast potential as an innovative learning tool for students, specifically those who learn best through visual venues. The possibility of an app makes Pastmapper an even more accessible and useful tool for the historical hobbyist.

Ultimately though, it is difficult to determine how useful the Pastmapper interface is for more than a cursory and casual investigation of historical trends. The amount of information displayed in the prototype is quite limited, including only name, occupation, and address. Additionally, unless you know what you’re looking for, it can be nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact “dot” that will reveal the desired information. Additionally, the “layered” aspect of the platform results in quite a bit of confusion. E.M. Cottrell of 17 Clay Street still appeared on the 2012 map of San Francisco, despite his almost certain passing in the over 150 year interval. This seems like a large oversight in Pastmapper’s structure. Perhaps this is something that will be addressed and added as the project moves forward.

Regardless, through our collaboration with Pastmapper we’ve certainly learned a lot. Although we have yet to see a visualization of our own Greenwich Village data, we’ve enjoyed being part of this cutting edge project. Pastmapper is easily google-able, and seems to have received a great deal of attention in the wider digital humanities community. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now Pastmapper will be a commonplace tool for student inquiries into census data and broader historical patterns. Additionally, being part of the Pastmapper project gave us a newfound appreciation for how much grunt work goes into a comprehensive project like this. Simply touring the San Francisco visualization, would never have imagined the hours and hours of data recording, and as the complex process of digital mapping demonstrates, it doesn’t end with us. A project of this size requires collaboration between different groups and individuals. In fact, the Pastmapper site even suggests ways in which interested parties can help. At the top, Brad notes that he has already been contacted by many people interested in his project. We are looking forward to the visualization of our own West 9th Street data, as well as other innovations promised on the Pastmapper site. Pastmapper is a new and exciting way to visualize enormous amounts of data and search for patterns. It is really fun to be a part of this collaborative project and an interesting lesson in the possibilities and the limitations of census data.

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By Stephanie Krom, Kerry Heimer, and Salome Jeronimo

photo copy 2

The process of transcribing data from the 1920 census of West 9th Street proved to be tedious yet interesting.  Reading through the pages of census data offers a representation of West 9th Street and its residents that would be otherwise inaccessible.  In choosing 1920, a relatively recent decade, we expected the handwriting on the census chart to be reasonably legible.  However, we soon discovered, particularly with handwritten documents, the quality of the scan could be more important to legibility than the handwriting on the chart.


An example of the discoloration that made some of the 1920 Census almost illegible.

When reading a census chart from one street during this era, you are generally reading the handwriting of one or two people – the census taker, or “enumerator” for that district or street (in our case, mostly Robert B. Murphy and Eleanor L. Armstrong).  In this way, the legibility is almost entirely dependent on the penmanship of one or two people.  Neither Mr. Murphy nor Ms. Armstrong’s penmanship was terribly difficult to read – both wrote in more modern script than most of the handwriting in census charts from previous decades.  However, we still found our documents difficult (in some cases, impossible) to read due to the image quality of the scanned charts – many necessary entries were only partially visible as a result of discoloration and blurring of the words on the pages.

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Meet Mr. Robert B. Murphy, Enumerator

For the purpose of completing our project, it was necessary to take our best guess and draw inferences from the text that was visible.  By virtue of this, the accuracy of the data we entered into PastMapper for this census year should be understood through this lens of legibility issues.  Once we were beyond deciphering the entries and our data was compiled in a more accessible format, we began our analysis of the social, familial, and occupational trends of the period.  We found several points of interest in the data regarding the countries of origin of West 9th Street’s residents, their occupations, and the dynamics of their households.

We found a marked correlation between the country of origin of the residents and the occupations they tended to hold.  A significant portion of the 1920 Census participants were immigrants, the majority of which had come from Europe.  The most represented foreign countries were Ireland, England and France, with smaller numbers representing Canada, Eastern European nations and Asia.  Often, the occupations of immigrants tended to be in housework.  Many listed their occupations as housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, butlers, butchers and maids, stating their workplace to be “a private family.”  This speaks to the type of work that could be found for immigrants in the 1910s and 1920s.  The amount of industries available to them outside of private housework appears to have been quite limited, and it may have been easier for a recent immigrant to work as a waitress or housekeeper rather than pursue a career in an office environment.


A series of servants in one “private family” household from Sweden, England, Scotland, and Ireland.

There are, however, some notable deviations from this pattern.  Several entries for immigrants from England, France and Canada indicate that work in occupations such as office jobs, stenographers, clerks or salesmen/women were a rare exception.  This could possibly be due to the likelihood that people from England and Canada would have a stronger grasp of the English language.  Also, there were several single women from France that listed their occupations as milliners.  With several of these entries, one is able to see the ‘necessity’ for access to fine women’s hats in New York City in the 1920s.  This not only speaks to a shift in the fashions of the time but also to the luxurious, extravagant spending of the Roaring 1920s.


Women’s hats of the 1920s.

In addition to trends in nationality and occupation, we found that the data provided interesting information about the personal dynamics within households.  The overwhelming majority of houses appear to have been headed by married couples, many of them employing the immigrants previously mentioned as working for “private families.”  Though the entries for these individuals recognized their respective occupations, their relationships to the families they lived with was noted as “servant.”  Homes with larger families specifically those with children, seem to have been more likely to employ multiple servants, one usually being designated as a nurse.

Another point of interest regarding the dynamics of the households is the amount of entries indicating “Partner” relationships between a head of household and another individual.  In terms of data numbers this type of relationship was certainly uncommon, however, it is interesting to note that there is no indication of the nature of the partnership.  With no specific information we are unsure as to whether these relationships were business related, romantic, or simply two individuals sharing fiscal responsibilities.  Since the census is from 1920 and same-sex relationships were not yet generally publicized or accepted, we are reluctant to assume that these entries represent domestic partnerships.  However, this distinction of relationships other than spouse, friend, or lodger shows us that “alternative” households may not have been unusual in an area that drew artists, writers and bohemians.

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The 1940 census sits at an interesting point in American History- the US was still recovering from the Great Depression, yet had not yet entered the European conflict that would later become a World War. The snapshot view of W. 9th Street, in New York’s Greenwich Village, shows just how much America had changed compared to similar records for the prior fifty years.

Of the 500 records that we looked at on West 9th street, only seven of the heads of household owned their houses or apartments. This is especially notable because the street is made up almost entirely of town houses, but these houses must have been subdivided into apartments during this period. Of the owners, the highest value was the home of Louise Brooks, a widow who lived with her domestic servant, whose house was valued at $47,000.

The rents on West 9th Street in 1940 were stratified clearly by building but did not reflect a particularly large spread of values. The lowest rent on the census was listed as $20 a month, paid by Frank Dent, the superintendent in building number 43, who lived with his wife and adult son. Roger Williams, a banker, paid $347 a month for an apartment in number 35 that he shared with his wife Frances and 21-year old son Samuel, a college student. This rent is an outlier, as most of the other high rents fell between $120 and $180 per month. The overall highest rents appear to be in building 61, with many renters paying over $100 a month, and the lowest are in building 66, where everyone paid less than $50 a month. These buildings are across the street from one another, emphasizing the building to building differences in the value of the homes in this census.

While the rents on this street show some socio-economic differences, it is important to place this in the national context. According to the national archives census infographics that they produced when this census was released the average urban monthly rent was $30.83. So nearly everyone on West 9th street was paying average to above average rents, while many people in New York city were likely paying much less.

The rents of the tenants on West 9th street in 1940 reflect their generally middle to upper-middle class professions and salaries. 1940 was the first year where the census asked questions related to employment and salary information, which was intended to identify the activities of the  public works administration and effectiveness of those programs. Very few of the people on West 9th street were working in public works, and most had been employed for the entire period included on the census. While there is some variety in the type of employment, nearly all of these workers would be classified as white-collar, even those that lived in boarding houses or paid very low rents relative to some of their neighbors.

This employment stability is also reflected in the stability of the tenants in this building. It is quite likely that most of the tenants we see in 1940 also lived in this building in 1930, as nearly all of them were listed as living in the same place in 1935.

Children account for between a quarter and a third of the total population of the US, based on records compiled by the Census Bureau. In the nearly 500 individual entries charted for the 1940 census of W. 9th St, children accounted for less than 10% of the total population. Furthermore, the children listed lived predominantly in the buildings of families with the highest socio-economic status, nos. 35 and 61. For this analysis, we considered children as any person under the age of 18. The ages of children were spread quite evenly- from infants to teenagers- but it is surprising to see how few children there actually are. While there were proportionately few children, there were still a significant number of married couples of childbearing age, or of an age to still be raising children, who were childless. These two person families were typically supported by a male head of house, with the wife remaining at home regardless of her educational background.

According to national data compiled by the Census Bureau, about 5% of the total population had any college education in 1940. This number was further reduced for women; only 3.8% of women had a college degree. This is an area where W. 9th St. was very different from national averages; we noticed that more than half of the adults listed in these records had a college education. An equally high proportion had graduate degrees, including doctors, lawyers, engineers and university professors. Even more surprising was a comparison of education by gender: an equal number of women to men had attended college, although these women were still unlikely to be in the workforce if they were married.


Census Bureau, “Taking You Back to the 1940s.” http://www.census.gov/1940census/ 

National Archives, “1940-1910: How Has America Changed?” http://www.census.gov/1940census/then_and_now/index.html

Forum on Child and Family Statistics,”America’s Children in Brief.” http://www.childstats.gov/

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What can our pastmapper data tell us about West 9th street in 1910? The majority of residents on West 9th identified as white –  in a rough calculation, 99% of our sample of 600 individuals were listed as such. Minority groups represented in the data include “Indian,” “Japanese” and “Black,” with the predominate minority self-identifying as “Black.” This vast racial divide was the most striking demographic disparity that emerged from the compilation of our data. Sex and marital status produced relatively standard results, with an expected majority of single people due to the presence of children, servants (who were predominately unmarried) and lodgers. In particular, several houses on west 9th consisted entirely of lodgers, who were predominately single, white men, with occupations varying from accountant to carpenter. Women lodgers were few and far between, with the majority identifying as wives of other lodgers. Single women lodgers did have a presence, albeit small. Interestingly, these women held the most unconventional occupations represented in the data, such as “companion” and “artist.”

1910 Census

1910 Census

Although there seems to have been little racial diversity, West 9th Street in 1910 was home to a fair number of relatively recent immigrants (1880s-1910). The majority were employed as servants within private households, while others were independently employed in various respectable working class occupations (such as bookkeepers and salesmen). The bulk of immigrants identified as German or Irish, with substantial numbers hailing from Canada, France, England and Italy. Interestingly, there seems to have been very little inter-marriage. The majority of residents were born from parents of the same nationality, with a few notable exceptions. Additionally, we found that very few residents of West 9th street were the product of a relationship between an immigrant and a U.S. citizen. For example, Ernest Warren, who was the head of his household, stands out as the son of an Englishman and a New Yorker. We saw no evidence of inter-marriage between people from countries that did not share a common language and/or culture. Correspondingly, segregation along national lines within households seems to be a dominant trend. Within the context of national movement, the majority of residents were born on the east coast, specifically Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We were surprised to find a few residents who were born as far away as Texas and Indiana.

As mentioned above, the majority of households seem to have been structured according to the traditional format of a nuclear family (mother, father, children), often with the addition of live in servants (an average of three). This nuclear structure reflects contemporary patriarchal norms, as the vast majority of those who identified as the head of a household also identified as men. The wives of these men were predominately unemployed (“none” or “housework”), particularly when the head of household worked in a professional position. In the few scenarios in which women did serve as the head of their households, they most often identified as widows. Typically, the male head of a household held a professional position, such as a lawyer, physician, broker or engineer. Primarily, these men rented, rather than owned, their place of residence. Of the few who owned homes, most held positions of social authority, such as judges and naval officers. Family sizes seem to have been relatively standard, with an average of 2-3 children. However, it was not unusual to find an older relative, such as a mother-in-law, living with her married daughter’s family.

Ultimately, there was little that surprised us in the data collected from the 1910 census. We expected to see a high number of European immigrants, with the majority occupied as servants within private homes. We also anticipated that households and occupations would function within traditional structures of patriarchy. What did surprise us, however, was the diversity of occupations in this predominately working class street. Everything from physician to librarian to seamstress is represented, often all within the confines of the same boarding house. Ultimately, although we can draw general conclusions from our limited 12 pages of census data, we recognize the importance of understanding the process of census-taking as a subjective act of self-identification. The static “facts” which we use to paint a picture of west 9th street in 1910 cannot possibly reflect the fluidity of a more comprehensive reality.

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Censuses are conducted in order to collect the personal data of citizens, but once all the names and numbers and details are recorded in long rows and columns, the information appears quite impersonal. While transcribing so much data, we tended to focus on reading and deciphering the handwriting of the census taker, which was particularly illegible in the case of the 1880s census sheets, rather than being aware of the individuals described. Now that all of the data has been re-recorded and we are able to look through it more easily, we have begun to find interesting trends and anomalies. and see that the 1880 residents of W. 9th Street had very diverse and intriguing occupations.

Detail of one page of the 1880 census.

Detail of one page of the 1880 census.

One of the most unexpected results that we found by observing the occupation data was the apparent socio-economic stratification on W. 9th Street in 1880. The occupation field is some of the only information included in the census that gives clues to residents’ education and wealth (other fields only asked whether individuals had been in school in the past year, could read, and could write). Our street was home to lawyers and physicians, presumably highly trained and educated people. There were both merchants, who owned businesses and stores, and the clerks and salespeople, who were employed by them. Finally, there were landlords, who managed buildings and residents, and their household staff of cooks and maids. Though this list of occupations is certainly not comprehensive, it shows the range of class levels found on the street.

A 19th Century Millinery shop.

A 19th Century Millinery shop.

Another thing we found interesting when looking at the resident’s occupations was the different ways in which they described their jobs. It would seem that the census taker recorded the occupation in each individual’s own words, rather than using a standard term. For example, some people choose to term themselves “milliner,” while others simply called themselves “hat makers” or “hat trimmers.” The most commonly listed women’s occupation was “keeping house” or “housekeeper,” but some women choose to say instead “care of family.” While we don’t know why these people choose to use different terms, it would be interesting to investigate.

But, interestingly, many of the women who lived on W. 9th Street in 1880 had jobs outside the home. Some of these other occupations were still somewhat domestic skills, such as “seamstress” and “laundress.” Others were less traditional, such as “Daugerrean artist” (photographer) and “artist,” “actress,” and “opera singer.” Still others worked in jobs also held by their male neighbors, such as “bookkeeper,” “teacher,” “salesperson” and “clerk.” Most of the women who worked outside of the home were single and young, but some older, widowed women also took on the responsibility of managing a boarding house to provide for their family.

Illustration of a 19th Century clerk.

Illustration of a 19th Century clerk.

Immigration trends are also quite visible. A significant percentage of  9th Street residents and/or their parents were born in other countries, and one can see the generations changing. Seventy-three percent were born in the United States while about sixty-five percent of their parents were native born. Half of the immigrant parents were from Ireland, while thirty-eight percent of the immigrant children were Irish. Most of the other countries of origin were in western and northern Europe, with a smaller percentage from southern Europe, mainly Italy. Very few had emigrated from the Americas – some Canadians and Cubans and a tiny minority from Venezuela. Overall, New York and New England were the main places of birth for the majority of people living on 9th Street in 1880.

Working with the census data for the Pastmapper project has introduced us to these interesting trends. Soon an interactive map of W. 9th Street from 1880-1940 will be available online, which will make it possible to visualize  how the people who lived on one street in the heart of Greenwich Village changed over time.

– Aly DesRochers, Shannon Elliott, Charlie Steiner

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While exploring the inhabitants of West 9th St, New York, NY, circa 1900, Rachel, Jennifer, observed the proverbial “melting pot.”  It seems to have been a neighborhood formed predominantly of immigrants or first-generation Americans. While this is not a huge surprise in for this part of the city, the wide variety of countries of origin was fascinating. Of course, the obligatory Irish were in evidence, but so too were Germans, English, Swedes, Austrians, French, Chinese, Italians, and even Japanese. While the Irish are primarily listed as domestic servants, as are the Swedes, the majority of the other inhabitants of the street seem to be merchants, professionals or other skilled workers, like clerks. (There was even a French and Swiss married couple who were opera singers!)

Interestingly, in spite of this considerable diversity as far as ethnicity, it does seem to have been fairly monotone as far as skin color—there is only a handful of “black” inhabitants recorded in the census for this year. Of the few there are, only a fraction are native New Yorkers—most of them are from the American South—Virginia, North Carolina. These people are primarily domestic servants, presumably part of the great Northern Migration that many African Americans participated in in the decades after the Civil War, searching for work in the growing northern cities of the United States.

Another interesting facet of the neighborhood is the large number of boarders and lodgers. Although there are more traditional households in the neighborhood as well (consisting of a husband, wife, children and servants), there are also a large number of households headed by older widow-women, living with their (frequently adult) children and boarders. In the census, these landladies are called by a number of names, most notably “capitalist.” Many of these boarders are women, who are listed on the census as providing for themselves by way of a number of professions. Schoolteachers and secretaries are common, as are dressmakers, hat makers, and salesmen and women. We found the presence of a large number of working, single women fascinating, an example of the changes that American life was undergoing at the time, particularly in large cities like New York. The fact that women could come to the city on their own and work, without their reputations suffering overly much, was a very new and exciting cultural change.

Overall, 9th street seems to have been primarily residential, home to large apartment buildings and lodging houses, rather than large mansions of the very wealthy. At the same time, the private households show a large number of servants, which would seem to argue that these families were significantly well-off, at least wealthy enough to have a butler, multiple maids, laundresses, and cooks.  The large number of working women who lived in the lodgings on this block were a fairly respectable lot, judging by their professions, and the community seems to have been a blend of a number of different cultures and ethnicity, including Americans from other parts of the country. The melting pot that we learned about in grade school seems to prove true, judging by the mix of different classes and ethnicities living on one diverse street.

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