Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Where Our Ancestors Lived in America

Using books to learn more
about where our ancestors lived
Some years ago, hubby and I took a memorable daylong tour of the Bronx, New York, with Professor Lloyd Ultan, who is the County Historian.

I bought the two books above not just for nostalgia (being a native Bronxite), but also to look up places where my immigrant ancestors lived. In search of historical context for my genealogy research!

Where My Ancestors Lived in the Bronx

Many immigrant members of my family tree settled in the Bronx after spending time in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and, in some cases, living in Jewish Harlem in Manhattan. I found photos and explanations of the streets where they lived and worked in two Bronx books, The Beautiful Bronx and The Bronx in the Innocent Years.

For instance, my paternal grandma Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) plus one brother and both her parents were born in Eastern Europe. After the parents and two oldest children came to New York City, the rest of the Mahler children were born in the Big Apple.

In 1920, my great aunt Ida Mahler (1892-1971) married immigrant Louis Volk (1890-1952), who was originally from Sukian, Russia. As their family grew, they moved uptown to a series of nice Bronx neighborhoods (Walton Ave., Morris Ave., Rochambeau Ave., Findlay Ave.).

The Bronx books show photos of typical apartment buildings on those streets, explaining that the areas were desirable because they were within walking distance of mass transit like subway, trolley, and bus lines.

It was fascinating to watch the development of the neighborhoods, one historical photo at a time, and imagine my ancestors' daily lives as they shopped in local stores and sent children to local schools. Almost like time travel to when/where my ancestors spent so many years of their lives!

Where Hubby's Ancestors Lived in Upper Sandusky

The small book in the photo is Images of America: Upper Sandusky, a pictorial history of the town in Ohio where my husband's maternal grandma Floyda Steiner (1878-1948) and her family lived before the turn of the 20th century. She and her siblings kept homes there well into the middle of the 1900s.

The book has photos of the very lovely and well-kept Old Mission Cemetery, where Floyda and her siblings are buried. Included was a photo of the infamous gravestone incorrectly inscribed with a death date of February 31. We saw (and photographed) that grave when visiting Steiner graves a few years ago.

The book has lots of photos of churches and schools, some of which were attended by Floyda and her family. In addition, it has some dated photos of local families whose names are familiar from the FAN club of my hubby's family tree.

Some of the homes where Steiners lived in the 1900s are no longer standing, replaced by newer buildings. But my husband and I both enjoyed paging through the history of Upper Sandusky and learning more about the key people and events shaping the town's development over the years--great context for understanding his family history.


  1. Books about localities where we, or our ancestors, lived are some of my favorite reads. I've found reminiscing books about Calais, ME and a Passaic man wrote a couple books about Wonderful Passaic. Not only are they fun reading, but they give a real feel for what life was like in the neighborhood.

  2. My Irish family lived in the Bronx too. Some stayed there while others moved to Brooklyn or Manhattan. My great-grandmother followed her sister-in-law's family to Virginia in 1905.

    1. Wendy, have you looked at some of the historical photos from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan? They give me a real sense of what our ancestors saw where they lived and worked. Thanks for leaving me a comment!