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Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

The Pastmapper project “Mapping 60 Years of Greenwich Village”, displays data from five federal censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940) onto a Google-based map.  While the Pastmapper website claims that the project “for West 9th Street features buildings, businesses, and neighborhood features through the years,” the only records transcribed by this class were census records and thus no information on businesses was transcribed.  The promise of this project is intriguing and the combination of information will allow for many research topics. Visual depiction of this information is an ideal format.  It would be great if this project eventually enables users to refine searches by every available census header, including building number, occupation, ancestry, etc.

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West 9th Street & Sixth Avenue

The 1930 Census Data from West 9th Street illustrates the great diversity of residents of Greenwich Village during that time.  Inhabitants were persons of all ages and education levels, from young Irish servants to New York-born male bankers age 50 and older.  From the occupation listing the researcher can see a high level of education with teachers, urologists, writers, editors, stenographers, designers, statisticians, and bookkeepers.  Artists and actors are also well represented, as one might expect from the neighborhood at that time.

As the Pastmapper website quotes from New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, West 9th Street boasted “an air of solid respectability, of tradition and culture.”  This respectability comes through in the predominantly white, Anglo Saxon demographic makeup of the neighborhood.  Even the servants were white.  The 1930s census records also revealed a mixture of people who lived in both boarding houses and upper class townhouses (upper class was inferred since several properties included people with the classification of “servant” under the relationship to the head of household).  It was striking by how many female heads of houses lived on the street in 1930, some of whom even owned their homes.  Yet, most women listed were single and lived with relatives.

1930 Census data for West 8th and West 9th Streets, Greenwich Village

1930 Census data for West 8th and West 9th Streets, Greenwich Village

From studying the decade of census records for this street, one could conclude there was a large population (approximately 43%) of first generation Americans whose parents emigrated mainly from Europe, especially Italy and Ireland. Many respondents not from the United States were servants, and those came primarily from Ireland.   It was also interesting to note that many families came from similar geographic areas, but since they had different last names it was not apparent if they had a family connection or if the families migrated together.  Additionally, though many respondents were born in the United States and had parents from the United States, many were not born in New York State and even fewer were second-generation New Yorkers.  Though a substantial number of respondents were born in New Jersey or Connecticut, many came from Midwestern states.  This is not surprising since even now New York City’s culture, industry and opportunities attract people from across the nation.

Once all data is viewable, it will be interesting to note how demographics (ancestry, residence type – home, boarding house, apartment, occupation, education, etc.) of the street changed with any trends or consistency.  Regarding education level, data as recorded on Pastmapper began to show a pattern in which children who grew up on this street were the only ones with educational backgrounds.  But that data is misleading and incomplete.  Closer examination of the actual census form reveals that education level records specifically whether respondents “Attended school or college any time since September 1, 1929.”  Many respondents, especially professionals, presumably attended school before that date.

When this Pastmapper project is finished, it would be interesting to include information from the last 2010 census to see how the neighborhood has changed over the past 70 years.

-Bonnie Gordon, Jackie Rider and Lynda Van Wart

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While still a work in progress, Pastmapper exploits the best aspect of digital history, its interactivity.  Because the platform was launched from San Francisco, most of its information now focuses on that city.  The Pastmapper Main Page states “Current available listings” as including 1852 San Francisco, 1960 Minneapolis, 1966 Boston, 1966 San Francisco, and 1967 Oakland but provides no links to any of those maps.

The 1853 San Francisco trial posted on the Pastmapper website uses transcribed information from the 1852 A.W. Morgan & Company’s San Francisco City Directory and takes the user to a San Francisco map with dozens of placemarkers.  Some placemarkers open photos and other images, other placemarkers do not.  Toggling between 1853 and 2012 Google maps of San Francisco creates an easy visual comparison.  When the user toggles between the two maps, streets and topographical features change, but data points remain the same, giving the user a unique view of how the city has evolved over the past century and a half.  Changes in the city’s land mass between 1853 and 2012 mirror other online geographic comparisons such as a recent one after Hurricane Sandy that contrasted an 18th-century map with a current one.

pastmapper

Researchers may appreciate the visual mapping of history and the clear color distinction between people and businesses.  The visual impact of information like this is easy to understand and is a great alternative to reading a listing or directory, a task which quickly becomes tedious and confusing.  Pastmapper enables users to switch between years to see how one specific section has changed over time.  Additionally, users can click on individual business types (15 in total) and gain an understanding of how many and where those business were located.  The Google map platform allows users to zoom in and out and move around, a great tool for street-level examination and quick navigation.

However, since only 35.6% of the 1852 directory was geotagged, Pastmapper is not yet ready for academic use.  Too much information is missing.  In addition, the business category “other” is not defined and offers no explanation why.  This website did not clearly define why some business types were classified together and others stood on their own.  While one can assume “dry goods, books, stationery and household items” were lumped together because a store may sell all four items, it is not clear who demarked the boundaries.  Was it the directory or the Pastmapper transcribers?  In addition, while the color coding distinctions were based on whether an entry was a “business” (blue) or “people” (green), it was not effective.   The “people” classification can be found in “boarding houses and hotels,” “saloons, restaurants, entertainment,”  “groceries and provisions, produce, butchers and bakeries” and others.  Moreover, business classifications that show green markers also show blue ones.  Therefore, the distinction between colors and business types becomes meaningless.

Finally, differences between the 1853 and 2011 maps are not readily apparent.  The difference is on the shoreline and not the information keyed in.  For example, Miss Bella Livingston is listed as living on Dupont Avenue, Miss Bella Livingston during both time periods.  Considering the 158 year difference, it is doubtful that this is the same person.

At the same time, the maps help users compare changes such as damage to businesses, homes, and cities in different natural disasters throughout a city’s history.  A business that may have stood near the water at an earlier point in time uses the same address but stands further offshore some 200 years later.

Overall, Pastmapper is a great tool but its usefulness for academic research will only be found once it amasses more information and classification of that information is clarified. Pastmapper contains a great deal of carefully entered metadata with few visuals.  Clicking on “Random Page” takes users to more metadata with links, none of which resulted in any images. Pastmapper has a lot of potential, but it also has a long way to go to engage online users.  It needs a more welcoming home or main page, visuals that draw in users and show them what Pastmapper has to offer if they set up an account, and simpler representations of metadata.  It also needs more information to make the trails more productive. Once it ingests more information, Pastmapper has the potential to organize that data and become a more effective research application.

-Bonnie Gordon, Jackie Rider and Lynda Van Wart

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Today I thought I’d write a little about the U.S. Census, one of the sources I’ve been using in my research on Washington Square Village, a middle-income housing complex now owned by NYU. I specifically want to talk about using the Census as a visual tool, and how it can be used to discuss the design of Washington Square Village, and how construction of the complex and others like it affect neighborhoods.

When Washington Square Village was proposed in 1957, it was designed as a “superblock” style development, like other low and middle-income housing projects such as the Lillian Wald Houses in the Lower East Side, completed in 1949.  This meant that a large section of land, multiple square blocks, was to be cleared and replaced with massive apartment buildings set in a green space. Washington Square Village, when it was built, would take up three entire blocks. Greene and Wooster Streets, which once ran through the site, became driveways, and the complex is now bordered by LaGuardia Place (formerly West Broadway), Mercer Street, West 3rd Street, and Bleecker Street.

Rochdale VillageWhile I am still researching the reasons why Washington Square Village specifically was built, we can use the histories of other developments to help us understand why low and middle income superblock complexes were built elsewhere in New York City.

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In 1973, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum started collecting oral histories as a part of a new project. The interviews are not only of passengers, but also of former employees and military stationed there.  The National Parks Service reports that there are now nearly 2,000 interviews.

On September 1st of this year Ancestry.com partnered with the museum to offer free access to close to 2,000 Ellis Island oral histories.  The oral histories can be searched by: name, birth date or location, place of arrival or origin, or keyword.  Each oral history includes the interviewee’s name, birth date and place,  place of origin, port of arrival, ship name, year of arrival and age at arrival.  It is a little tricky to search through them, since you have to enter search terms and cannot browse the collection, however, searching with broad terms will yield a good number of results.

It seems like this is a great resource to be made available to the public.  You do have to create a username to access the collection, but it is still a lot less than they ask for fee-based document searching.  2,000 oral histories seems like a large collection – but I wonder how small it seems when searching it by narrow terms like last name, or when using multiple search terms.  It seems more unlikely than likely that a user would be able to find a family member.  This is not necessarily a problem, but I found it interesting considering ancestry.com is largely focused on genealogy. Either way, whether the material is of interest to users doing a family history or to researchers, this project is a great way of making the material much more useful than if it were only usable at the museum.  Overall, it seems like a useful partnership between a history museum and a popular website.

To find out a little more or search the oral histories yourself, head to the ancestry.com Ellis Island Oral History website.

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