Chicago: A city built on graves

There have been an  incredible amount of early burials in the downtown area of Chicago. Many could be thought of as the earliest “backyard” burial, where the first Chicago residents simply buried their deceased where they lived. Many others were native Americansac3ce9a011293bf6d295e01e99c922da--nephilim-giants-human-skeleton.

Bodies most everywhere

Both Native Americans and early Chicago settlers buried their dead in or along the Chicago riverbank. The Tribune of 1897 state:

“..that all along both sides and partly under its present bed, from Market Street to Dearborn or State, bodies of early Chicagoans are thickly laid.”

 Andreas, in his History of Chicago, used the phrase “..all along the borders of the two branches….on or near the residence of the friends of the deceased.” 

The Daily Democrat reported :

“Two coffins seen floating down the river (were) supposed to have been from some burying ground on the North Branch of the Wabansia Division.” One early observation was of a boatman paddling up the river who saw the ends of bark coffins projecting from the sand hills on the right bank…and even occasionally noted their contents.”

 

As early as 1897, the Chicago Tribune printed an article entitled:

 “City built on Graves – Chicago buildings stand upon sites of old cemeteries…the structures of the downtown district cover unnumbered dead.”

 

John Kinzie’s home along the Chicago river might be considered one of the earliest sites for a backyard burial.  John Kinzie (1763-1828) remained at the house until his death on January 6, 1828 when Chicago’s population was only about forty people.

Kinzie_House

 

Jean LaLime Buried by Kinzie

Andreas described the La Lime burial site as being “near the bank of the river about the present terminus of Rush Street and within about 200 yards (600′) of Mr. Kinzie’s house, in plain view from his front door and piazza.”  This grave was also mentioned in The Fort Dearborn Massacre by Helm, published 1912.

 

This is (or was) the burial site of Jean LaLime, (  -1812) an interpreter at Fort Dearborn who was killed by John Kinzie (1763-1828) in a dispute early in 1812. Although Kinzie was cleared of any wrongdoing, it is reported that his feelings of guilt prompted him to have LaLime buried near the Kinzie home. According to The Story of Old Fort Dearborn by J. Seymour Currey, 1912, the grave was enclosed by a picket fence and cared for by Kinzie and his family. John Kinzie and other family members dutifully placed fresh flowers on the grave.

 

 

The Chicago Tribune of 1897 stated As the number of families multiplied, fewer bodies were buried in the neighborhood of the houses, and by 1825 it had become customary to carry the dead to the lake shore just north of the (Chicago) river, and east of the Kinzie home for interment. This spot had been used as a burying ground for the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn.”

1834 Soutrh water street

 

 And on October 7, 1900 the Chicago Tribune printed the story “Forgotten Graveyards of Chicago – Beautiful Homes built over the tombs of departed Pioneers”

 

The Chicago Tribune article of  October 7, 1900 describes a cemetery referred to as the “ Common Acre”:  “On the west side, on the North Branch of the Chicago River, north of Kinzie Street, another old cemetery has been obliterated, the ground being taken up for manufacturing sites and business blocks. The remains buried there were taken to burial grounds outside the city limits, as they were at that time, the the cemeteries are now incorporated within the legal precincts of the city.”

 

 The Daily Democrat refers to “…some burying ground on the North Branch of the Wabansia Division”

 

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How did we forget so many graves and even whole cemeteries?  And where are they?

 

Did you know the John Hancock building is built upon and near the site of an early burying ground?  The North Side Cemetery, surveyed in 1835, included a portion of prime North Michigan Avenue real estate including the Hancock Building and Water Tower Place.

 

A portion of Lincoln Park, the beautiful park along Chicago’s lakefront, was once City Cemetery, the primary municipal burying ground for Chicago between 1837 and about 1871.  Most bodies were removed after the Chicago Fire, but many still remain buried there. Over the years, human remains have often been found in Lincoln Park and in the Gold Coast neighborhood during construction or repair projects. Most of the God Coast area  bodies were from where Catholic Cemetery was located. Today, the Cardinal’s mansion now stands on the north end of that site.

 

Other cemeteries existed near and under portions of the McCormick Place complex, under the University of Illinois Circle Campus, under housing developments, and under many city streets. Construction crews often discover human remains during street and sewer work.

In future blogs I will describe how the city began to consolidate bodies in two municipal cemeteries.

But for now, think twice as you walk in and enjoy the downtown and northside area. There just may be someone under your feet!

Chicago area Undertakers

Hundreds of small undertakers operated in Chicago and Cook County out of storefront establishments providing services and funeral merchandise.

Many early undertakers were in downtown storefronts on Madison, Wells (formerly Fifth Avenue) as well as main arteries and streets such as Clark,  State, Halsted, Lincoln, Milwaukee, Archer, North, and Wells wright Continue reading “Chicago area Undertakers”

Finding your Uncle Louie

Tips on finding the Burial Location of your Relative

 

There are over ten thousand burial locations in Illinois, 272 in the Chicago area alone.. They provide an important physical link to our past containing a wealth of genealogical information. They provide a unique insight into our customs, beliefs, and culture. If you want to learn about people, study their cemeteries. For the beginning or advanced genealogist, cemeteries can help when other sources fail. You may discover infants that were born and died between census years. You may discover an aunt or second wife, not known about.

 

If you are looking for YOUR Uncle Louie who has seemingly disappeared or you simply do not know where he is buried,  Here are thirteen steps:

  1. Start by writing down what you know. It might be a death date or a funeral remembered. It might simply be a family story of where the person was last seen. Write down the name of a spouse, or children. Write down or even guess at the birth date. You need first to simply create the best profile of the person. Small clues can be very helpful.

 

  1. Check and recheck your family records. Look at wills, letters from or to family members, obituary clippingsor deeds. Don’t overlook family bibles, scrapbooks, and diaries for clues. Interview older family members. You may discover birth certificates, baptism records, or any number of valuable documents.                                      
  2. Build or reread the profile of the person you are searching for. This will aid in determining the cemetery in which they may have been buried. People are predictable, creatures of habit. They follow patterns consistent with the customs of the time. Residence, church membership, employment all will help you establish a idea where and when the person resided. Even in a city as large as Chicago, residents maintained strong ties to neighborhood, most often by ethnic origin.
  3. Narrow your estimate of the death date. Knowing the death date will allow you to rule out cemeteries that have not yet opened, cemeteries that were inactive, or those that had reached capacity at the time. The month of death can sometimes be a clue. A death during a harsh winter might mean temporary interment tin a cemetery that had a holding vault. Bodies were often held until spring when the ground thawed enough for digging the grave.                                                                                            
  4. Look for a death certificate. Familysearch.org is a free website. Register for free. Ancestry, a subscription site is also a good resource.

 6. Try to determine the last residence. Burials are often made in some proximity to the residence or neighborhood of the deceased. Although there are numerous exceptions to this rule, start your search in cemeteries that served the neighborhood or town of the deceased. As a general rule, the older the burial date, the more likely it will be in closer proximity to his or her last residence. As late as the end of the 19th century, burials were still made in urban areas near the home or residence. Although zoning lawsput an end to this practice within the city, farm burial plots are very common, many of which have vanished from our memory and records.

 

  1. If religion was important in their life, try to determine the religious affiliation of the person. Death and burial often follow the customs, rites, and beliefs of the church. The religion of the deceased often influences the choice of burial location. The Catholicand Jewish faiths consecrate individual graves and entire cemeteries. Members are usually obligated to be buried in consecrated ground. Church related cemeteries are usually easier to identify, although some have lost their identity through the years. If the person you are searching had little or no religious affiliation, try the municipal or community cemetery. If there is a history of Fraternal membership,seek those cemeteries that provided space for fraternal lodges and societies.

 

  1. Determine the economic position of the person you are searching for. There are cemeteries for both the poor and the rich. Fashionable families, politicians, and the famous often buried their dead in Rosehill, Oakwoods, and Graceland. The poor were buried in potters fields throughout the city. Knowing the economic status will help you identify a potential cemetery.

 

  1. Think about the customs and practices of the family. Did they move often? Were they long time residents of the community?. Along time resident may have been more apt to have selected a burial location well in advance. A family with less “roots” may have just chosen the most convenient cemetery. Families who migrated from other areas might return a body back home. Depending on the time of death, consider the possibility of cremation. If the person was a victim of an epidemic or disaster, the burial might have been made in a special section in the cemetery.

 

  1. If the death certificate or other documents have not yielded a burial location, identify all the cemetery possibilities that fit the profile of the person you are searching. You can rule out many cemeteries, such as those cemeteries opening after a death date.

 

  1. Write or call these cemeteries. Although many cemeteries will help you without charge, some will charge for the service, others discourage genealogical research. Be polite, specific, and make only reasonable requests. If the cemetery is church related, a donation or offer of a donation is always a good idea.

 

  1. If you have located a family member in a particular cemetery, plan an in person visit to seek additional information. Choose good weather for your cemetery visit. Wear comfortable, protective clothing especially for visiting cemeteries that are in poor condition. Be safe. Some cemeteries may be in less than desirable neighborhoods. Follow your instincts. Leave you are not comfortable in a particular area. Avoid isolated areas unless you have someone with you. Get permission if the cemetery is on private land. If there is an office, they can often locate the grave on a map for you. Some cemeteries will allow you to examine their record books. At the gravesite, the stone or marker may reveal additional information not in cemetery records. On some occasions, there may even be conflicting information. Nearby stones and markers may reveal other family members, wife or husband, children, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.

 

  1. Try locating a transcription of the gravestones or the records. The Daughters of the American Revolution, local genealogical groups, and historical societieshave carefully copied and published thousands of cemeteries. Always try to verify any information found in a transcription with that of a primary source such as a death certificate or cemetery record.

With patience, persistence, and a bit of good luck, you will find the burial location of your missing relative. With a bit more effort and luck, you will find additional and valuable genealogical information from the gravestone, cemetery records, or the death certificate itself.

 

If you have hit a brick wall, email me with what you know and I will try to help. I have many research tools at my disposal. Barry A Fleig bartonius84@hotmail.com

Celebrate Lutheran Cemeteries

I have again turned to my good friend, the somewhat elderly, long retired, but wise priest,  Father Barton. He and  Minnesota’s Father Wilmer  guide me on all things of spirit and goodness. Father Barton tells me that an abiding faith is the foundation of church cemeteries. Although we commit the body to the earth, death is not the final word,  believing the soul is in the immediate presence of God. Today we look at the more than 40 cemeteries in the Chicago area where just the physical bodies of generations of Lutherans rest.st john rodenburg

It is surprising that there are over 90 Catholic and Lutheran cemeteries in the Chicago area, more than any other type or group of cemeteries. Again surprisingly,  the number of those cemeteries are split somewhat evenly between Catholic and Lutheran.

In this blog we will concentrate on just the Lutheran cemeteries, but a future blog will also celebrate the Catholic cemeteries as well.

Continue reading “Celebrate Lutheran Cemeteries”

Tombstones by Mail Order

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Yes, you could buy just about anything from  Sears, Roebuck & Co, the largest mail order business in the country and that included  a grave marker for your Uncle Louie.

We erect monuments to be seen, striving for some sense of immortality. We mark the grave in a desire to perpetuate the person buried there, publicly recording a life and death through the use of words and symbols.

They began with the 1902 “Sears, Roebuck & Co. Tombstones and Monuments catalog” where prices for a tombstone started at only $4.88.

a4 Continue reading “Tombstones by Mail Order”

Well done, Good and Faithful Servant

391a smallI have this good friend Father Barton,  who tells me that every day is a gift, a good and suitable time to take stock of life and ask ourselves how are we are doing with what we’ve been given. We were taught by example, from a special group of people who have gone before us and now rest in our cemeteries.

Take this moment to reflect on those,  the thousands of priests, rabbis,  pastors, teachers, police officers and firefighters buried in almost every one of the 273 Chicago area cemeteries. They devoted their entire lives to prepare us, teach us, guide us, lead us and keep us from harm. I am willing to bet that we all can fondly remember one or more of these dedicated people who were a positive influence in our lives. Continue reading “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant”

The Golden Era of Chicago Movie Theatres

bk5Two great families buried in the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery at Forest Park changed Chicago entertainment forever.

maxwellIsrael Balaban (1862-1931) a Jewish immigrant arrived in Chicago in 1882 from Odessa Russia along with his wife Augusta “Goldie” Manderbursky (1868-1936). They opened a grocery store and fish shop on Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street. They and their five sons and  daughter lived in the back of the store.

 

By 1910 the family had moved to the west side where two of their five sons,  Barney Balaban (1887-1971) the oldest son,  and A. J. Balaban (1889-1962) along  with partners Sam Katz (1892-1961) and Sam’s father Morris Katz (1869 -1939)  became the genius behind the Balaban and Katz chain of palatial “movie palaces “.  These wonderful theatres shaped how almost every one of us and our parents sought entertainment and viewed the Hollywood movies. Continue reading “The Golden Era of Chicago Movie Theatres”