Really, there is such a web site. FindAGrave.com. Unfortunately, I’m able to locate exactly none of the people I’m searching for in the nineteenth century. Perhaps it’s due to misspellings?
I located the marriage record today for Michael Harm and his bride Elizabeth Crolly at the Cuyahoga County Records. The minister who officiated had an illegible signature. He misspelled the bride’s surname as Crowley. But that’s only fair, since the ministers name, which reads “Wilhelm Schmied” as best I can make out, is spelled “William Schmid” in the directory of pastors.
But my best resource of the day turned out to be none other than the phone book. I’m joking about the phone part — but seriously, the Directory of the City of Cleveland was a wealth of information. It gave addresses, occupations, and business locations. Didn’t list the women, though — a sign of the times that are behind us.
So I couldn’t find the graves, or the dates of death. So what? What matters is how we live.
Here’s a sample page from the 1864-65 directory.
I spent three days at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) digging for evidence of my ancestors. I probably missed some key that would unlock the treasure box, but where my ancestors are concerned, I left knowing little more than when I started.
Don’t get me wrong, the WRHS has resources galore. Especially about the early German immigrants to Cleveland. I scooped up a copy of Cleveland and Its Germans and Jacob Mueller’s Memories of a 48er — each bound volume only $5 at the bookstore.
But I wasn’t able to find the Putnam Street church my family attended, or related records. I searched the names Harm, Handrich, Rapparlie, Schuster, Scheuermann, and found next to nothing. I found my greatgreatgrandfather and gg-grandmother mentioned under a story about William Hoppensack. I found Rapparleye mentioned under a note about a fire on Seneca Street.
Plenty of early Germans to Cleveland are mentioned. Often the word “educated” appears in the accolades about them. Then it hit me–my ancestors were blacksmiths. Or worked in the shipbuilding factory. Or worked for an innkeeper. There were many many like them, working class people. To those in the self-described “educated” circle of German immigrants, my ancestors were a spit in the bucket.
While I’m working on the research for this thesis, I’m living on the property where I grew up. I never thought much about it, but there was always an area of the ravine where we weren’t allowed to play, because there was too much broken glass. I was out there this morning, trying to clean up some of the more dangerous glass shards poking out of the earth, and I realized: I’m on an archeological dig. The pottery shards, blue, white and clear broken glass, the rotted apart leather shoe, all come from an era over a century old. The pieces are splintered, but they could be cleaned off and put together again. It’s possible.
Today I discovered what Cleveland Germans thought of Abraham Lincoln. They LOVED him. They were predominantly Republican, and the Wachter am Erie German newspaper heartily endorsed the Lincoln ticket. (When the Republican Party formed, it was a different political landscape than it is today. The Republicans were the progressive political party — against the spread of slavery into the territories, and pro a shorter, 5-year waiting period for immigrant naturalization, rather than the 21-year waiting period advocated by “Know-Nothing” Democrats.)
The pre-1848 German immigrants to Cleveland weren’t so sure about Lincoln. They were democratic to the core. If the German newspaper coverage is any indication, the newly-formed Republican party, among them radical Germans who arrived on the heels of the 1848 European revolutions for democracy, out-shouted the German Democrats 10 to 1.
Of course Lincoln was news. After his election, Abraham Lincoln made a stop in Cleveland in February of 1861, cheered by tens of thousands of Clevelanders and Ohioans on his way to his first inauguration. During his second election in 1864, my ancestor Michael Harm had reached the age of 21. I feel sure he voted for Abraham Lincoln. There was a German immigrant up-swelling of support for the man. Some German Americans of the time, such as Jacob Mueller, hinted that the German vote went a long way toward getting Lincoln elected and keeping him in office.
Today I sat in the Western Reserve Historical Society looking through ancient newspapers in German and realized I have oh so little time. The resources here are beyond compare.
I delved into a little of this, and a little of that. I get the feeling that the onset of advertising was an early and prevalent part of American life. One report said people heading west put signs on their wagons that said: “Pike’s Peak or Bust.” So people coming back from the west, their schemes and funds depleted, put signs on their wagons that said: “Busted.”
In the German newspaper Wachter am Erie, I read in an 1852 rag that German immigrants relished the slogan: “Europa ist ruhig, stören wir es nicht.” (Europe is quiet, we’re no longer there to disturb it.) I presume this slogan reflects the sentiment of the numerous political refugees who had to flee Germany because they called for a democratically elected government. (The Prussian monarch suppressed the rebellion in 1848-49.)
A Cleveland newspaper reported on May 17, 1844 that a visitor to see an elephant put a wad of tobacco in the elephant’s mouth. The elephant used his trunk to strike the man dead with a single blow.
And with permission, here’s an 1853 cookstove, about the only illustration in the whole German newspaper:
One of the most remarkable things about the mid-19th century was the fast pace of change. Yes, I’m talking about horse and buggy days. The turnover of technologies in that era was mind-boggling.
When my greatgreatgrandfather’s grandparents arrived in Cleveland in 1840, the Ohio Canal had just been completed (in 1833). Canal shipping was all the rage. Mules towed flat boats along at 4 mph through an endless system of locks, all the way through Ohio to the Ohio River. The canals shipped wheat, flour, and timber out of Ohio, and brought immigrants and supplies in. When my greatgreatgrandfather arrived in 1857, locomotives run by steam engines had pretty much eradicated canal travel. Trains were all the rage.
In the City of Cleveland Archives, I kept noticing these petitions about gas lamps. The technology of lighting in the mid-19th century changed almost as quickly as MS-DOS to Windows to Vista to Windows 7. Candles in the early nineteenth century were replaced by whale oil lamps, which were replaced by gas lamps, which were replaced by electricity.
Cloth went from being homespun to machine-made. The writing quill became the fountain pen. My greatgreatgrandfather built fine carriages, but along came rubber tires from Akron, the bicycle came and the motor car.
At the Ohio and Erie Canal Reservation today, the educational film reported that in the nineteenth century, industrialization was seen as progress, and industrial waste a necessary – in their minds, natural – consequence. The film went on to point out the Cuyahoga River had burned over 30 times leading up to the 1969 disaster. It’s enough to make me long for the horse and buggy days.
Culture gardens and how! After a day browsing through City of Cleveland Archives, reading about carriage registrations (they used to register carriages just like we now have to register our cars), and city petitions and resolutions, I took a spin up MLK Drive through Rockefeller Park.
In my research, I’d read something about a German Culture Garden in this park, a green belt that channels on either side of Doan Brook all the way down to Lake Erie. I imagined the German Culture Garden as the only one. But cruising along at 40 mph, I spotted a Lithuanian one, a Czech one, Chinese and Romanian and Italian and Greek gardens, and I’m sure there were more. The German Culture Garden is hidden away under a canopy of giant basswood trees.
There stand a larger-than-life, bronze Goethe and Schiller, arm in arm on a granite pedestal, well out of reach. The pedestal has quotes about freedom and brotherhood carved into it. Since it was a gorgeous spring day, I drove on down to the lakefront and sat on enormous rocks and listened to the waves lap the shore.
Then I hopped back into rush hour traffic. A traffic brook of the 21st century.
I spent the day at Cleveland Public Library, and have copies of maps to prove it. Part of the history trail is hitting the usual hotspots — libraries, genealogical records. But the other part is talking to people.
Today at the library I talked with a man who told me about the Cuyahoga County Archives, where they keep records of everyone who has owned any given property. He also told me about a professor at Cleveland State University who has done studies of the various ethnic neighborhoods in Cleveland.
I stopped in at the information booth in the Terminal Tower and a woman named Joyce gave me the scoop on Cleveland’s warehouse district and a local historian.
I was struggling along wishing I could make a copy of EVERYTHING in the Cleveland Public Library maps collection, and the gentleman mentioned I was welcome to take photographs. Aha. Here’s a sample pic of a brewery in Cleveland, owned by Paul Schmidt back in the day, that was tucked into the Sanford Insurance map.
Welcome to Cleveland. The Forest City.
As I enter Cleveland just east of the airport, I’m surprised to see the signs still announce Cleveland as The Forest City. Hailing from 1850, the nickname is almost as old as the city itself. Nowadays, I associate the “Forest City” designation with the ample green areas of Cleveland, like the Metroparks that form an “emerald necklace” around the metropolitan area.
But according to the “Encyclopedia of Cleveland” the Forest City was given its name when it wasn’t exactly a forest anymore. In the early 1800s Public Square was just a bunch of tree stumps. The rampant felling of old-growth maples, oaks, beeches, and sycamores cut a great swath across Ohio. The timber industry denuded the landscape for its wood, for shipbuilding, fuel, home-building, exports via the canal systems. They even made a road out of wood, called Plank Road. Apparently, William Case introduced the nickname “The Forest City” as a visionary one — the idea being it was time to replant and attempt to restore the forest canopy.
It’s great to be in Cleveland once more. The old, deciduous trees stand tall, instantly reminding me I’ve come home.