What’s in a surname?

As I started exploring backwards, I really only knew of two surnames.  My father’s, Whitehead, and my mother’s maiden name Sublett.  What you learn quickly is how these names grow exponentially as you research your family tree.  The difficult thing to do for someone like me (can you say Adult ADHD) is to stay focused on a particular branch and not wonder off onto another branch before it’s time.  I can attest to the many times I have been beckoned out of the office (or Vortex, as Cheryl calls it) and back to the present, that I refocus and ask myself, how did I get on this path.

As we begin to explore backwards together, I am going to try to focus on my primary surnames.  We will see how I do.

I am very fortunate because my Aunt Leah had done an extensive amount of research on the Whitehead and Kersten side of the family.  So, before we get further along, I want to know how thankful I am for her research.

Margaret Agnes Kersten, my paternal grandmother, was born 13 March 1906 in Chicago, Illinois.  Her parents, Peter Kersten and Anna Stalhaber had married 26 December 1903 in Chicago.  According to the 1910 census, both Peter and Anna immigrated in 1893.  But since they were not married at the time, I do not know if they had been engaged in Germany or just happen to meet.

Aunt Leah? Aunt Viv? Dad?  I would appreciate any of your recollections.

Peter Kersten is listed as Single on the 1900 Census.  He is was a boarder and renting a room from John Kalde and his family.  His occupation was that of a Brewer.  John Kalde is also listed a Brewer.  So it is likely, they became friends while working together.  The home is located on Cottage Grove Avenue.

However, after trying to find 2461 Cottage Grove Avenue, I realize that the areas do not match up.  I went to this website, http://www.alookatcook.com/1900/1900ChgoCtymp.htm

Here I discovered that the streets in the 1900’s do not reflect the current street map of Chicago.  A more accurate understanding would be to review what enumeration district he was in.  He was in ED 51, the boundaries of which were: E. 24th St., Lake Michigan, E. 26th St., and South Prairie Avenue.  The reason I mention this is as we explore backwards we will see how much or how little the family moved.

In 1910, Peter Kersten is now married to Anna Stalhaber.  Margaret and William Kersten are listed on a census for the first time.  Peter still works as a Brewer.  This time, it is he who is renting out rooms.  There are 3 boarders listed on this census.  Peter’s family lives at 2804 S. Calumet Avenue.

In 1920, Peter and Anna and the two kids are still renting their home.  Peter’s brother John is living with them as well as a nephew, Harry Stalhaber.  They are now living at 2411 South Park Avenue.  Peter is still listed as a brewer.  They have a couple of boarders listed here as well.

According to his WWI, Draft Card, Peter Kersten worked as a Brewer for McAvoy Brewing Company.

Okay, until later where we will explore backwards!

McAvoy Brewery circa 1886

McAvoy Brewery circa 1886

McAvoy Brewery

McAvoy Brewery



Playing Craps Chicago Style

My father has never been a story-teller.  I am not sure why, because he is actually pretty good at it.

This weekend some of the family convened to my sister’s home to celebrate the high school graduation of my nephew Connor.  My younger brother, Joe, his wife, Bethany, and I were visiting with dad on the porch when somehow we started talking about Dad growing up.  Maybe we were just feeling nostalgic remembering our high school days or maybe we were just passing the time.

Regardless, I said to Joe that one of the few stories I remember Dad telling me was when the cops took their winnings in a craps game.  You have to understand, my father grew up in the 40’s and 50’s on the south side of Chicago.  His family was not wealthy.  They were on the cusp of being poor and the working class.

Dad sits back and scratches at his face.  Although he is clean-shaven, I think he does it as it helps to encourage the memory to form.  Dad said the crew of boys he ran with were always putting some games together.  His friend, Jimmy, an orphan, was bunking at the florist shop (I am sure there is a story about this too, but we did not hear that one this weekend.).  Apparently a craps game got started in the back of the florist shop that night.  It got bigger than normal.  Dad said that his crew was there, but there were also some rougher kids there as well.  Dad was in charge of the dice.  There was about $300 dollars on the table and another few hundred in Jimmy’s hand when Chicago’s finest busted in from all sides.  Jimmy put his wad in a vase, it was the first thing that he thought to do.  Dad keeping his cool, kept the dice in his pockets.  The dozens of others scattered into the wind.  Only Jimmy and Dad remained.  A Chicago Police Officer picked up the money off the floor, and as he left, told Jimmy, “It was nice doing business with you boys.”

As the police left, Jimmy and Dad were relieved that they were not getting hauled off to the local precinct.  Dad still had a pocket full of dice, and Jimmy and Dad split what was in the vase.