Monday, November 26, 2012

If these walls could talk: searching the 1940 census to see who lived in our Chicago home #makesmesmilemondays

For the past two years, we've lived in a former two-flat (now single family home) in the Bucktown/Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. This year, I am working hard to totally remodel our home, in small, inexpensive ways that I'll be sharing with you throughout.

Home Sweet Home. The were once gargoyles
on our front porch! Now they only come out
for Halloween!
This is the home that I hope to see my children grow up in: I dream of seeing my son come down the stairs in his cap and gown on graduation day; I dream of seeing my daughter off on her first day of school from this dear home. I love our little city neighborhood, and I love our home. This Thanksgiving season, I was more thankful than ever for home. 

The day we moved in, summer 2010.
I can't believe how much my kids have
grown in these past two years.
Our home is an older home; I believe it was built in about 1910. A contractor told me that our long, wide radiators, which keep our home extra toasty, were popular around 1910 because of a TB epidemic: evidently people at the time believed in keeping windows open to air out the home, which required keeping the heat on at full blast.
Our dear old radiators
I often joke with my son - who has likely the largest LEGO collection in the world - that 100 years from now people will be finding LEGOS hidden around our home. And sometimes, I come across things that the family who lived in our home likely used 100 years ago.
Open this cubby and you'll find a murphy-style ironing board.

For example, the ironing boards. Ours are built into the walls. I imagine that years ago, this was a prized, ultra-moderne feature in the home. Nowadays, I rarely iron. My kids use these hidden ironing board cupboards (there are two in the home) to hide things. (My son actually hid BRUSSELS SPROUTS that he didn't want to eat in the ironing board cubby!).
We can't open the ironing board all the way as
it would slam into a bookshelf now, but
you get the idea. 

In our basement, I found an old telephone switchboard, a horseshoe and a sprig of plastic mistletoe. There is a scary, dark closet in our basement - for coal storage perhaps. I'll bet the children growing up in this home were always a bit frightened of that dark closet with the thick metal door.

And I've often thought - if these walls could talk - what would they tell me? More families than ours have made memories in this home. Who were they?

Today I was able to answer that question at least in part: I searched the 1940 census database to see who was living in my home in 1940. In 1940, our home consisted of two 2-bedroom rental units. On the top floor lived Walter Wasielweski, aged 52, and his wife, Rose, age 47. Walter was a piano tuner, born in Poland, and I suppose Rose was a homemaker as no profession was listed. They had three children still living with them: Raymond, age 27, a shipping clerk; Irene, age 21, a typist; and George, age 17, a delivery boy. On the ground floor lived Anthony, age 64, and his wife Rose, age 62. They had no professions listed - were they retired? unemployed? Their daughter, Jean, lived with them, and worked as a typist.

You can search the database here:

The school a block and a half from our home, way back when.

Do you know the history of your home? If the walls of your home could talk - what stories would they tell?

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  1. So cool! I used to live in a 100-year-old house in Chicago and we knew a little about the history & it was one of my favorite things about the house.

  2. very, very cool. Thanks for sharing!