Sunday, November 6, 2011

The People Behind the Census Listings

       When I started looking into Powelton history, I began with the censuses. They give the name of each resident plus a few words to describe them in terms of their marital status, occupation, place of birth, etc. I have since discovered that some of individuals were quite prominent. However, most Poweltonians didn't head national organizations or large companies, didn't write books, and weren't heroes of the Civil War. Digging deeper using a wider variety of sources, I have occasionally found brief insights into the lives of less prominent, more typical Poweltonians. This might be some of their history, details about their jobs or social life, or hints about what happened to them in later years.
       Here are three examples from the 3600 block of Hamilton St. around WWI. These families were neighbors who probably saw each other on a regular basis while walking down the street or waiting for a trolley.

3618 Hamilton St.
       The 1910 census lists a widow, Emma Southgate (age 58), her unmarried daughter, Eva (34), and a boarder, Samuel Zacharias (70). Zacharias is listed as a widower who was the superintendent of a trust co. A brief obituary for him provides insights into his varied past.
       1915: "Samuel M Zacharias, 74 years old, who died Sunday night at his home, 3618 Hamilton street, was for 30 years superintendent of vaults of the Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company. Mr. Zacharias was born in Lingletown, Dauphin County, and was graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1863. That year he joined the Union Army, serving in the Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. Following this he entered the grain business with his father, and later was appointed Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for Juanita, Mifflin and Snyder Counties." (Evening Public Ledger, Jan. 26, 1915)

3624 Hamilton St.
       A few doors down the block in 1920, we find Bridget Connor (age 75). She lives with her son, Bernard (38), her married (but separated?) daughter, Genevieve, and two granddaughters. Bernard was single and the manager of a fertilizer company. However, a newspaper story about a robbery offers some interesting details.
       "Jewelry Taken From Crippled Victim Near His Home.
       "A one-armed man was held up by four men in a motor and robbed of jewelry valued at $4000 within a half block of his home at midnight. The victim is Bernard Connor, 3624 Hamilton street, owner of a fertilizing business at Twenty-sixth and York streets. The hold-up was at Thirty-seventh and Hamilton streets.
       "Connor looked over his shoulder when he heard the motor approaching. He saw it slow down, and three men jumped out. With his only arm, his right, he struck and knocked down the lending man.
       "The others drew revolvers and threatened their victim.
       "One of them snatched a diamond stickpin from Connor's necktie, another took off a diamond ring and the third went through his vest pockets and found a gold watch. They did not bother with his wallet which contained $45.
       "The highwaymen left in their car and Connor ran along Hamilton street until he stopped a motor and persuaded the driver to give chase. The two machines sped out to Fortieth and Baring streets where the bandits' car eluded the pursuing one
" (Phila. Inquirer, March 1, 1921)
       So here we see Bernard as a feisty company owner, missing one arm, and walking down the street at midnight wearing jewelry worth $4,000.

3629 Hamilton St.
       Across the street, was Augustus Keil (age 39) and his family: wife, Rebecca (31), son Robert (l0) and daughters, Henrietta (8) and Anna (2). They also have a nanny, a 35 year-old black woman who was widowed. In 1920, they have another daughter, Rebecca. Robert was then 19 and working as an electrical engineer building organs. However, two newspaper articles give some idea of what his life was like between the censuses.
       August, 1918: “Private Keil., Company M, 109th Infantry. Reported missing in action on July 15, 1918. He was eighteen years old, and enlisted in the old First Regiment, N. G. P., in May, 1917. He received his training at Camp Hancock, and sailed for France in May, 1918. The last letter received by his parents was dated June 27, 1918. Prior to enlisting he was a student at West Philadelphia High School. He lived with his father, at 3629 Hamilton street.” (Evening Public Ledger, 8/16/1918)
       January, 1919: "The War Department announced today the names of one officer and 264 enlisted men of the American expeditionary force, who have arrived in France after being released from the German prison camp at Rastatt.... Among the enlisted men from this city ... Roger H Keil, 3629 Hamilton street...." (Phila. Inquirer, Jan. 4, 1919)

       A death, a robbery, and a POW returning home are not everyday occurrences. These events reveal something about these individuals. However, they also give us some feel for the neighborhood. These events were known to all the neighbors and, to some extent, they were shared losses and celebrated victories -- shared experiences that make a neighborhood (or a village) more than a list of names with ages, occupations and places of birth.

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